It wasn’t suppose to happen this way, not for Charlotte and certainly not for Southern Mississippi.
In their second year in the FBS and in Conference USA, the Charlotte 49ers are on the cusp of winning three games in a row for the first time in school history and earning their first bowl invitation ever.
Meanwhile, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles have lost three of their last four games including two eye-opening upsets, and have fallen from preseason Conference USA contenders to struggling with the possibility of a losing season in Jay Hopson’s first year.
Charlotte fell behind 14-7 before scoring 31 straight points and holding a commanding 38-14 lead in the fourth quarter. Two late scores by USM narrowed the final margin to 38-27.
Entering the game as a double-digit underdog and trailing early, Charlotte opened the floodgates on its first possession of the second quarter when freshman running back Robert Washington broke free at the line of scrimmage and burst 58 yards to the end zone.
Three possessions later, the 49ers were at it again, this time with a 27-yard run by Kaliff Phillips and a 27-yard reception by T.L. Ford II to get to the Southern Miss nine yard line. Once there, seldom-used Chris Montgomery ran it in to give Charlotte a lead it did not relinquish.
One minute later, Golden Eagle quarterback Nick Mullens threw an interception and once again, Charlotte quarterback Hasaan Klugh found Ford open and the talented receiver put Charlotte up 28-14 at the half.
Southern Miss has been good after halftime breaks, but not this time.
Instead, Charlotte marched the length of the field on its first possession of the third quarter to notch a field goal. The 49ers block a USM punt for another touchdown and the visitors were up 38-14.
Analysts had expected Southern Mississippi to produce over 200 yards on the ground while holding Charlotte to perhaps under 100.
Instead, the 49ers registered 303 rushing yards led by Phillips with a career-best 183.
Southern Mississippi’s Ito Smith was held to his lowest rushing total of the season with just 69 yards on 15 attempts.
It was also expected that Southern Miss would continue to take care of the ball after starting the first half of the season with severe issues.
Instead, the Golden Eagles gave up three interceptions.
Quarterback Nick Mullens completed 19 of 25 passes for 249 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Charlotte has never won three games in a row but the 49ers are expected to do that next week when they play Rice. The transformation by the 49ers from last year to this season has been incredible to watch.
Southern Mississippi looks to salvage a disappointing season in conference play when it plays Old Dominion next Saturday in Norfolk, Virginia. If the Hopson’s team wants any chance to make the Rivalry in Dixie be a winner take all affair for C-USA West they must win out.