What more could you ask in a signature win for a first-year head coach than a comeback victory in front of your home crowd? Charlotte led for only 18 seconds against North Texas, but that’s all they needed to overcome a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit against a Mean Green team picked to win C-USA.
Trailing by 5, Chris Reynolds rolled to his right, and while shedding off two defenders, tossed a 34-yard jump-ball into the endzone. Victor Tucker boxed out the North Texas defender and came down with what is one of the biggest victories in program history.
“Catalysts for change,” coach Healy said in reference to the impact of the leaders of this Charlotte 49ers program.
With 1:18 to play and just one timeout, Chris Reynolds knew exactly what had to be done to secure the 49ers’ first conference win of the season and break their recent skid. “We knew we had to have a sense of urgency. We had to get the playmakers the ball - that guy over there.” Reynolds said, referring to a smiling Victor Tucker.
Now trailing by 1, North Texas took over with 18 seconds, two timeouts, and a red-hot quarterback. Seth Littrell’s squad had their work cut out for them and a chance for back-to-back walk-off field goal victories.
The 49ers had other plans.
With 4 ticks remaining, Mason Fine dropped back with his heels on his own 40-yard line, and loaded up a prayer to the endzone – but storming in off the edge came Markees Watts, batting the ball from Fine’s hands and sealing the victory for Charlotte.
What shaped up to be a monstrous comeback, started out looking like a potential beat down. Mason Fine came out firing on all cylinders, completing all 7 of his first-quarter pass attempts for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns; the first to a wide-open Jaelon Darden for a 64-yard score, and the second to the blazing fast Jyaire Shorter on a rope from 40 yards away. Shorter had three receptions on the day, all for touchdowns.
The 49ers responded to the quick 14-0 deficit with an answer of their own as Benny Lenny LeMay capped off the 13-play drive with a one-yard plunge. The score broke the three-quarter scoring drought dating back to last week’s loss at WKU, but it is safe to say the Charlotte offense has rediscovered their rhythm.
Just when it looked like the 49ers were muscling their way back, consecutive drops by LeMay and Finger halted the 49ers drive, leaving Mason Fine & co. with a shot to extend the lead with a minute left in the first half. Fine wasted no time finding Shorter for his second deep-ball score of the day, this time from 57 yards away. Press-Man coverage all the way across the board is not a recipe for success for this 49ers defense, as North Texas burned them for three touchdowns of 40 yards or more in the first half alone.
The Charlotte offense had struggled to put points on the board in the second half as of late, but the 49ers broke their slump and ran up 32 second-half points on a reeling Mean Green defense.
Following a punt to the 49ers own 1-yard line, Benny LeMay sparked what would go on to be a 99-yard touchdown drive with a 21-yard scamper, and Tyler Ringwood ignited the Queen City crowd shedding a Mean Green defender and streaking 52-yards for a 49ers touchdown.
If you enjoy watching great quarterback play, this one was for you. Following the third Fine-Shorter touchdown connection of the day, Chris Reynolds took command of the 49er’s offense. A 75-yard drive (Reynolds accounted for 73 of those), was capped off on a 29-yard scramble as the sophomore quarterback rallied his team back to a one-score deficit.
Band-and-forth they went, with neither defense being able to secure a stop, and both quarterbacks having career days. Mason Fine tossed his fifth touchdown of the day to Michael Lawrence from 34-yards out, yet again extending the Mean Green lead to 14 as the third quarter expired.
LeMay is known for his ground and pound abilities, but his impact on the passing game has now resulted in a receiving touchdown in three consecutive games. This time, Reynolds dropped a dime over the shoulder to the streaking LeMay for a 31-yard score, making it an 8-point game following a botched extra point.
Mason Fine found Jaelon Darden for six, but what would’ve been the nail in the coffin was negated by a chop block penalty, forcing the Mean Green to settle for a field goal. Tennessee transfer Marquill Osborne blocked the attempt, giving the 49ers defense the stop they needed.
LeMay had six carries in the fourth quarter all season heading into this game, and he equaled that total in the final quarter on his way to 30 carries for 155 yards and 2 scores on the ground, as well as 38 yards and a score through the air. LeMay broke the plane and put the 49ers in position to tie the game with a successful 2pt. conversion, but an errant snap shot down the Niners’ chances to knot the score at 35.
Trailing by 2 with 3:44 to play, the 49ers defense needed to come through one more time to give their offense a chance. On 3rd and 6 from the Charlotte 34, Mason Fine made one of his only mistakes on the day, missing an open Darden for what would’ve been a back-breaking first down. The Mean Green settled for a field goal, and last week’s hero Ethan Mooney put North Texas up 38-33 with a 51-yard boot.
You know the rest, and if you were in attendance, you won’t forget the feeling. Building a program and building a culture that sticks – the motto of the 34-year-old head coach Will Healy. “Our guys believe in what we’re doing. This process won’t just make you a better football player, but a better man,” said Healy. “This is just step one, we’re not done.”
Charlotte now sits at 3-5, and with 4 games remaining, has positioned themselves to make a run at bowl eligibility for the first time in program history. While that’s an exciting thought, that’s not what these guys are focusing on. “It’s a big win and we’re going to enjoy tonight, and then we’re going to get ready for Middle Tennessee,” said Healy. “We’re looking to build a program that lasts, not just have a big win.”
- Mason Fine was incredible - 26/38 for 394 yards and 5 touchdowns
- Charlotte moved the ball for 589 yards of total offense (336 passing, 253 rushing)
- Victor Tucker snagged 10 passes for 140 yards and a game-winning touchdown
- Tyler Ringwood notched the first 100-yard game of his career
- Charlotte converted 2 of their 3 4th down attempts
- Brett Kean reminded me of Ben Roethlisberger with a pooch-punt
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Chris Reynolds - Reynolds ignited the 49ers comeback with the best performance of his collegiate career. He completed 24 of his 32 attempts for 336 yards and 3 TD’s, as well as 8 carries for 96 yards and a TD, and most importantly - no turnovers. His protection was great as a banged-up offensive line only allowed one sack all game.
Seth Littrell’s squad heads back to Denton to take on a slumping UTEP team, losers of six straight. The North Texas Mean Green fall to 3-5 on the season, 2-2 in C-USA.
Charlotte (3-5, 1-3 C-USA) hosts a hot MTSU team coming off a 50-17 thwarting of FIU. Middle Tennessee poured in 471 yards on the ground against the Panthers in a torrential downpour. Both teams need a victory to keep their hopes of bowling alive