The 49ers are bowl eligible for the first time in program history, and what a way to do it.
Facing a 4th and 10 with less than a minute to play, it was gut-check time for first-year head coach Will Healy. He elected to keep the offense on the field, and instead of kicking a 42-yard field goal to extend their lead to 7, they went for the throat. Reynolds dropped back and lofted a pass into the endzone, and with what seemed like deja-vu, Victor Tucker fought through contact and came down with the biggest catch in 49ers’ history, sealing the senior day victory, 24-13.
”They hadn’t stopped Vic all night long,” said Healy. “Do we run it and try to waste a little more time or go for the jugular? I do think that’s our mentality right now. We’re not gonna be passive.
YOU CANT STOP HIM!!!!!!! REYNOLDS FINDS VICTOR TUCKER ON 4TH AND 10 FOR A TOUCHDOWN AND BOWL ELIGIBILITY!!!!!— (@CharlotteFTBL) November 23, 2019
:48 | 4Q#GOLDstandard
WATCH: https://t.co/WN3XXit8Oc (@Stadium) pic.twitter.com/iPfL02d3GC
This 49ers team was picked to finish last in the conference, and that underdog mentality is one they relish.
“We take pride in being the underdog,” senior Jeff Gemmell said. “Story of the year man. Every game we battle back, we don’t quit.”
The senior day festivities were dampened as rain drenched the QC for much of the day, but it’s safe to say the scene in Club Lit made up for it.
Charlotte Football’s locker room is the definition of electricpic.twitter.com/oX1rJgKuf8— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) November 24, 2019
The first quarter consisted of three turnovers and a special teams touchdown, much to the 49ers dismay. The action began with Marquill Osborne intercepting sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green’s first pass of the game, setting up the 49ers deep in Marshall territory. Charlotte would quickly return the favor as the ensuing pass was also batted and picked. A Chris Reynolds fumble positioned the Herd to put points on the board but they failed to capitalize and were forced to punt, pinning Charlotte on their own five-yard line.
Marshall’s defense tightened and forced a 49ers punt from deep in their own territory. The Herd stormed in and blocked the punt, and Joseph Early scooped and scored to put Marshall on the board first.
“We were pressing too much in the first half,” said Healy after the game. “We wanted it a little too bad, me included.”
Marshall tacked on a 31-yard field goal on their next possession after Green’s third-down pass was tipped by two Marshall receivers but fell incomplete. Trailing 10-0, Chris Reynolds ignited an 8 play, 86 yard drive to put the 49ers on the board. After converting on fourth and one from the Marshall redzone, Reynolds called his own number and electrified the Queen City crown with a 15-yard walk-in touchdown.
Jonathon Cruz missed only his second field goal of the season before the half, sending the 49ers to the locker room down 10-7.
The two teams traded field goals to start the second half, and despite a third Charlotte turnover the 49ers trailed by only three heading to the fourth quarter.
Guarding Victor Tucker has proven to be a tall-task, and with Marshall defensive coordinator Brad Lambert electing not to double him, Tucker racked up 121 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as drawing 3 defensive pass interference's and a defensive holding call. Tucker’s first touchdown came on a jet sweep to put the 49ers in front 17-13 with 10 minutes to play, capping off the 7 play, 77-yard drive and putting the home team ahead for good.
Isaiah Green finished the game 6 of 17 for 86 yards and two interceptions, with his second interception coming on a forced pass into double coverage. Senior Nafees Lyon intercepted Green, ultimately downing the Herd, and snapping their five-game win streak.
Brenden Knox has been held to less than 100 yards in each of the Herd’s losses this season, and the 49ers continued the trend holding C-USA’s leading rusher to 92 yards on the way to their senior day victory. A lot must be said about Charlotte’s defensive performance as they gave up just 230 yards and kept the Herd’s offense out of the endzone.
Benny LeMay made his return to action and racked up his sixth 100-yard rushing performance of the season, and with that crossed the 3,000 total yard milestone, joining only Kalif Phillips in 49ers’ history. Charlotte ran for 256 yards on one of the best run-defenses in the conference and Chris Reynolds turned in another career-high, this time on the ground with 145 yards and a score.
“It’s really just special for this whole city, the team — these seniors,” said QB Chris Reynolds. “I’ve never been involved with a team that supports each other as much as this one.”
The 49ers have won a program best 6 games and are currently on a 4-game win streak with one more regular season game to play. What a first season it has been at the FBS level for Will Healy.
Marshall (7-4, 5-2 C-USA) returns to Huntington to host FIU (6-5, 3-4 C-USA) for senior day. Marshall no longer controls their own destiny for the conference championship game and will need FAU to lose against Southern Miss to get there.
Charlotte (6-5, 4-3 C-USA) heads to Norfolk to take on a 1-win Old Dominion team. The 49ers achieved bowl eligibility but with eight C-USA schools with six wins, this one is big for bowl placement. Charlotte trailed 1-win UTEP 21-7 before storming back to win 28-21 just three weeks ago in their first road win of the season.