Charlotte’s first game under first year head coach Will Healy was far from flawless but it did showcase a ton of potential in their first game in the Queen City. A sell-out crowd had Jerry Richardson Stadium buzzing, and the 49ers sprinted past Gardner-Webb, winning 49-28 in their season opener.
A three-and-out and an interception on the first two drives of the season isn’t your ideal start, but what followed might have been just what the 49ers needed. Midway through the first quarter coach Healy made the switch, pulling the USF transfer Brett Kean and inserting Chris Reynolds into the starting lineup. Four drives and four touchdowns later, it seems a starter has been named.
This is Chris Reynolds’ team, and yet again he overcame an obstacle in his path, this time in the form of a starting snub. When No. 3 stepped into the huddle, you knew a spark was coming to the offense. Charlotte scored a program high 49 points in their win over Gardner-Webb, and 35 of those points were with Reynolds at the helm.
Sluggish play and penalties slowed the 49ers in the first quarter, but Charlotte’s defense held their ground. Alex Highsmith led the way with 7 tackles and 2 sacks, moving into second place on Charlotte’s all-time sack list behind current Cleveland Brown Larry Ogunjobi.
It’s been over 8 months since we have seen Benny LeMay in live action, but it is safe to say he didn’t miss a beat. Coach Healy kept the offense on the field facing fourth and goal from the one-yard line, and everyone knew that No. 32 was getting the rock. Diving into the end zone, Benny LeMay lit up the home team’s scoreboard for the first time all season, and that wouldn’t be his last.
Chris Reynolds & co. gained traction in the second quarter, pushing the score to 21-7 following a 1-yard Reynolds rushing touchdown and a 3-yard strike to Aaron McAllister on consecutive possessions.
Gardner-Webb struck in the form of a 99-yard kick return for a touchdown, a huge play for the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Special teams played a monstrous role, with the kick return keeping the opposing team in the game, and a blocked punt immediately shutting the door. Redshirt freshman B.J. Turner blocked the Gardner-Webb punt, and Solomon Rodgers wasted no time with the scoop and score pushing the 49ers lead to 21.
Carroll McCray’s unit stalled on the ensuing drive, but a crisp Jack Pawloski punt pinned the 49ers inside their own 10-yardline. Leading 28-7, Brett Kean regained control of the offense, immediately throwing his second interception of the night. Gardner-Webb wasted no time capitalizing as Jalyn Cagle struck pay dirt for his first of two touchdowns on the night.
The crowd was stunned, and Gardner-Webb was right back in the game, or so it seemed.
The LeMay train is leaving the station
With 40 seconds remaining until half, Benny LeMay wasted no time taking the first play of the drive 65-yards for the longest rushing touchdown of his decorated career. The momentum pendulum had swung yet again, this time being the last. Heading to the locker room with a 35-14 lead, Coach Healy’s testament was clear, “Keep the pedal down”.
The message was received. Charlotte held the Bulldogs to 219 total yards on the game, with 60 coming through the air and 159 on the ground. Tyriq Harris’ presence was certainly missed, but 6’2” sophomore Markees Watts gave the 49ers defense great minutes, totaling 3 tackles and 2 sacks.
Jayln Cagle was the lone bright spot in Gardner-Webb’s offense, toting the rock 19 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Jordan Smith was held in check, only completing 6 of 17 passes for 60 yards.
The 49ers overcame some rust to secure their first win, and it seems like this was the perfect tune-up with a tough non-conference schedule on the horizon.
- Chris Reynolds finished the night completing 14 of his 20 passes for 136 yards, a touchdown and an interception, also tacking on 72 yards on seven carries for two scores.
- Brett Kean made some nice throws late in the second half, one finding freshman Micaleous Elder first his first career reception and touchdown. Kean threw for 50 yards completing 4 of his 8 passes for one touchdown and two interceptions.
- Victor Tucker was targeted only three times on the night, bringing in one catch for 11 yards.
- Freshman wideout Noah Henderson caught all five of his targets for 49 yards, great showing in stepping up in Rico Arnold’s absence.
- Cameron Dollar had a knack for finding the soft spot in the defense, snagging 5 balls for a team high 58 yards.
- Charlotte’s offense produced 508 total yards in the victory, an amount that just a season ago would’ve been the second-best performance all year, with just one 500+ yard performance against FIU.
Player of the Game
Benny LeMay – Hand the ball to LeMay: A great option for a first-year head coach. Having arguably the best back in C-USA is the foundation this offense needs to thrive. Benny ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries all in the first half, a great start as he looks to notch his third consecutive 1,000+ yard season.
After the Action
Celebrating victory is important, and that’s what Will Healy is all about. “I will never apologize for winning,” Healy said following the week one victory. “You have to enjoy success, and if they enjoyed tonight as much as I think they did, I think it will make them that much hungrier when we go to Boone.”
Gardner-Webb heads to Greenville to take on ECU on Saturday, September 7th, the Bulldogs have a stout non-conference schedule this season.
Charlotte has ten days to prepare for a trip to Boone, after falling to the Mountaineers 45-9 last season the 49ers have revenge on their minds.