ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington isn't surprised his team is playing so well even if others can't believe it.
"Before we even started the season, I think we were predicted to win like four games," he said. "We felt that was disrespect but we knew why we were picked to win four because of the season we had last year."
Ellington passed for three touchdowns, Aubry Payne caught the go-ahead score midway through the fourth quarter and Georgia State's defense held on the final drive in a 28-21 victory over Army on Saturday night.
Quavian White picked off quarterback Kelvin Hopkins at the 3-yard line in the closing minute to end Army's last chance and give Georgia State (5-2) its third straight win. It's a big turnaround for a program that went 2-10 last year.
The Black Knights (3-4) have dropped three in a row and are under .500 for the first time since the 2015 team went 2-10.
Tra Barnett ran 17 times for 108 yards and a TD, and Ellington had 232 yards passing and 39 rushing for the Panthers.
Sandon McCoy ran for two Army touchdowns, but Payne's 8-yard TD catch over the middle was the Panthers' second straight score and proved decisive. Roger Carter caught a conversion pass to put the Panthers up 28-21.
The Black Knights took their only lead midway through the third after Jalen Moy scored his first career touchdown on a 16-yard misdirection run that made it 21-14.
Georgia State drove 75 yards in 16 plays to cut the lead to one on Tra Barnett's 1-yard run, but Brandon Wright missed the extra-point attempt to the right side. Barnett tied a school record with his 13th career rushing TD.
The first half was tied at 14-all.
Ellington connected on a 24-yard pass near the left pylon to Sam Pinckney, who made an over-the-shoulder catch to beat Javhari Bourdeau and put the Panthers up 7-0.
The Black Knights answered on the ensuing drive. Standing fourth-and-goal at the 2, coach Jeff Monken called timeout to set up a quick-snap handoff to McCoy, who dove over the goal line unscathed and rolled out of a somersault to make it 7-all.
Midway through the second, Pinckey again beat Bourdeau, this time for a 12-yard score when he won on a high pass in the end zone. McCoy followed on Army's next possession with a TD, pushing hard through three defenders on an 8-yard run.
But Georgia State forced a critical punt early in the fourth to give the ball back to the offense and set up the last score.
"They were playing small-ball to limit our possessions," Panthers coach Shawn Elliott said. "For us to have a stop was really all we needed. I felt we were so comfortable offensively that we felt if we could just get that stop, get that extra possession, we could put the heat back on 'em. And that's exactly what happened."
Army: The Black Knights looked sharp offensively at times and converted two fourth downs on their final drive, but the effort wasn't enough as the defense couldn't stop Georgia State on consecutive scoring drives in the second half. Monken was disappointed with the blocking on the offense's final possession.
"We didn't sustain blocks, and we ran the ball," Monken said. "And we didn't gain enough yardage when we did run the ball. We just need to put ourselves in a more manageable position. That's about it. I'm just disappointed."
Georgia State: The defense, which began the game ranked 122th nationally in scoring, held Army when it mattered most. With Hopkins heaving the ball to the right side from the 28, White jumped for the pick and returned it 27 yards to ice the game. Trajan Stephens-McQueen set a school record with 20 tackles, 10 of them solo.
It's uncertain how much longer Army free safety Jaylon McClinton can go. The senior was limited in warmups and was hurt on the opening drive, marking the fifth straight game he either hasn't played or had his game cut short by injury. Georgia State linebacker Ed Curney, the team's leading tackler this season, limped off the field with a left leg injury after getting hurt in the first. After making it to the sideline, he was carted to the locker room.
Army hosts San Jose State next Saturday and visits Air Force on Nov. 2.
Georgia State hosts Troy next Saturday and has a bye the following week.