A storybook ending for Brad Lambert in his final game as Charlotte head coach.
Freshman Jonathon Cruz connected from his career long 56-yard field goal to give Charlotte their lone road win of the season, beating FAU 27-24.
“I’m just really thankful for these players and coaches. Our university gave us an opportunity to come start a program from nothing.” Said Lambert post-game.
The stingy 49er run defense would hold their ground against C-USA’s leading rusher Devin Singletary, holding him to just 88 yards on 23 carries.
Lane Kiffin’s dejection spilled over post-game, as it was his first season under .500 in his collegiate coaching career.
“We knew it would be tough to run the ball, these guys were top-10 in the country in rush defense,” Kiffin said after the game. “…we had to throw the ball to have success, but we dropped balls like we do every week, very poor receiver play like usual.”
Celebrating the careers of 25 seniors, this would be a heartbreaking way to go out. Falling to 5-7 on the season, FAU fails to qualify for bowl eligibility for the first time in the Kiffin-era.
FAU’s senior day started with a bang as Kerrith Whyte Jr. would take the shovel pass from Chris Robison for 75 yards on the game’s first play, putting the Owls up 7-0.
Hasaan Klugh & co. would respond with a 75-yard touchdown drive of their own - just not in a single play. Mark Quattlebaum snagged his second touchdown grab of the season on a 12-yard dime from Klugh, knotting the score at 7 apiece.
Klugh would finish his final collegiate game 10-16 through the air for 91 yards and a touchdown. He also tacked on 85 yards on the ground.
Charlotte’s inability to capitalize plagued them in the first half, resulting in a 21-10 score heading into the break. Klugh’s lone interception on the day set up the Atlantic Owl offense in plus territory, and Chris Robison would scramble for the 4-yard score pushing the lead to 11.
Following a missed field goal from 28 yards out in the first quarter, FAU’s play-calling became very aggressive. Kiffin directed five fourth down attempts, converting only two on the night. The call to switch quarterbacks came late in the third quarter, benching season-long starter Chris Robison, and inserting dual-threat De’Andre Johnson into the starting lineup.
Robison threw for 273 yards and three total scores, two through the air and one on the ground.
Tackles for loss change the flow of any game, and Charlotte defensive end Alex Highsmith broke Larry Ogunjobi’s single-season record with 17.5 of them. Highsmith led the way for the 49er defense with a game-high 10 tackles. An impressive performance and junior season from the Wilmington, NC native.
Brad Lambert would turn to his star back Benny LeMay, and he would continue to gash the Florida Atlantic defense. LeMay toted the rock 24 times for 173 yards, highlighted by a 54-yard scamper with 8:27 remaining in the third quarter.
Klugh’s 13-yard touchdown scramble capped a 14-0 scoring run for the 49ers, leading to a 24-21 lead early in the fourth quarter. Charlotte’s defense held the Owls explosive offense in check, giving up only 3 points in the second half. Vladimir Rivas connected from 33-yards out to knot the game at 24 with just three minutes to play.
In what looked to be a poorly managed attempt at a game winning drive, Charlotte kicker Jonathon Cruz booted a 56-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining to put the Niners ahead for good.
”I was sending him out,” Lambert said. “I was getting him as close as I could. The guys asked me on the headset if I wanted to throw it on third down. I said, ‘no run it, whatever we run don’t lose yardage’. He got it at 56. It was never a question on if we were going to kick the field goal or not.”
Total jubilation consumed the 49er sideline as recently ousted Brad Lambert received his final Gatorade bath as Charlotte head coach.
“Thank you, our fans have been great. Just stay with the program, they have a lot of good players coming back and a chance to really move forward.” An emotional Brad Lambert said following the victory.
Charlotte finishes the season 5-7 (4-4 in C-USA). After spending 6 years establishing the program, Lambert’s tenure in Charlotte has come to a close.
The 49ers fall just one game short of bowl eligibility, as they begin the search for their new head coach.