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FAU escapes, downs Charlotte 21-17

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The Owls’ secured their first win and conference victory under Willie Taggart in a tight contest with the visiting Charlotte 49ers.

Credit - Charlotte Football

The Owls kicked off the Willie Taggart era with a win propelled by a 21-point explosion in the third quarter. Following a scoreless first half, Nick Tronti and the Owls’ offense found their stride as Tronti accounted for all three scores in his first start. Charlotte’s late-game comeback attempt fell just nine yards short as the Owls’ defense got to the quarterback when it mattered most.

This game was completely different quarter to quarter. Charlotte got on the board first as Jonathon Cruz connected from 43-yards out on the 49ers’ first possession, but what had been a sure-legged kicker has seen an extension of his sophomore slump into 2020.

The rust of having not played a game since December showed for the Owls as they struggled to get anything going in the first half. FAU gained a total of 72 yards and Tronti completed just 5 of his 16 passes for 30 yards through the first two quarters.

Chris Reynolds bounced back from his rough outing against Appalachian State finishing 24 of 32 for 314 yards and a touchdown. Reynolds found his roommate, Cameron Dollar, for a 39-yard score on a deep post route to put the 49ers up 10-0, the first touchdown for both players this season. The defense was lights out in the first half, allowing just one drive to cross midfield – only getting to the 49.

The tide began to shift when Reynolds was sacked on 3rd and short, forcing a 48-yard field goal attempt. Cruz missed his first of the day and the Charlotte offense began to unravel. The creativity and aggressive play-calling that became part of their 2019 identity has been missing through the first two weeks of the 2020 season. Following two three-and-outs, including a 2-minute drill opportunity with two timeouts, the 49ers nursed a 10-0 lead to the halftime break.

Cruz missed his second and final field goal on the opening possession of the second half, this time from 44 yards out. With two missed scoring opportunities in a row, the 49ers left the door open for the Owls to get rolling.

They ran right through it, literally. On the ensuing possession, Tronti went 49 yards untouched to put the Owls on the board and bring them within three. The Charlotte offense continued to sleepwalk as another drive stalled, giving the Owls a chance to tie or take the lead.

Florida Atlantic drove 80 yards in 5 plays and Tronti put an exclamation point on the drive with a 25-yard pass to Logan Peterson to give the Owls a 14-10 advantage.

Charlotte’s next possession proved to be a pivotal moment in the game as what looked to be a 75-yard catch and score for Aaron McAllister was erased due to an ineligible man downfield penalty. Two plays later, Reynolds committed the lone turnover of the day as he was strip-sacked by Leighton McCarthy and the Owls wasted no time capitalizing on the turnover. The very next snap, Tronti found Clemson transfer, T.J. Chase, for a 16-yard score, pushing their lead to 21-10 late in the third quarter.

The 49ers battled back, and Will Healy made a gutsy call on 4th and 4 from the 6-yard line, electing to keep the field goal unit on the sideline and trust his quarterback. Reynolds delivered with a completion to Victor Tucker, and Tre Harbison capped off the drive diving over the pile and into the endzone to bring Charlotte within four.

It was crunch-time and the depth of the Owls’ backfield showed. Four different backs carried the ball, including Tronti who led the team in rushing with 94 yards on the game. FAU drained the clock with an 11-play, 81-yard drive late into the fourth quarter. With two minutes remaining, the Owls lined up for a 4th and 1 attempt on the Charlotte 17-yard line, Taggart elected to pass on the field goal to extend their lead to 7 and went for the kill. Larry McCrammon III was stuffed by Tyriq Harris for no gain, giving the 49ers life with one timeout and 1:52 on the clock.

“There was absolutely no doubt in our mind that we were going to get that stop,” senior defensive end Tyriq Harris said after the game. “When they lined up for that fourth down we were like ‘hey, there’s no other place we’d rather be.’”

The 49ers’ offense had one final chance, but an untimely intentional grounding penalty, just the sixth total penalty on the game, cost Charlotte crucial yardage. The Reynolds-Tucker connection came to life with Tucker accounting for 74 yards on the potential game-winning drive. A 48-yard completion to Tucker set the 49ers up in the red zone with 32 seconds remaining.

The Owls’ defensive line wreaked havoc all evening sacking Reynolds 6 times, twice on the final drive. A sack on 3rd and 11 ultimately sealed the game as Charlotte had no timeouts and the clock began ticking down. Reynolds’ pass to Tucker as the game clock expired came up just short as the Florida Atlantic defense stood tall with the game on the line.

Charlotte’s comeback efforts fell just short, but progress is being made. If the offense can find ways to punch it in for touchdowns instead of settling for field goals, this team still has all the tools to compete for C-USA’s East division crown.


NOTES:

  • Charlotte dominated time of possession holding the ball for nearly 38 minutes of play
  • The Owls averaged 6.6 yards per carry with the majority of the damage being done in the second half
  • Tronti went 11 of 22 for 98 yards and two touchdowns through the air
  • Romeo McKnight made some big plays for Charlotte’s defense as he led the team with 10 tackles, 2 for loss
  • Charlotte is yet to record a sack in 2020
  • FAU had seven backs with a carry on the game for 214 total yards
  • Leighton McCarthy had 3 sacks and a crucial forced fumble for the Owls
  • Victor Tucker and Cameron Dollar combined for 14 catches for 214 yards in a bounce-back game for Charlotte’s passing attack

WHAT’S NEXT?

Charlotte (0-2) is on the road yet again, this time in Denton to take on North Texas (1-2). Seth Littrell’s unit is adapting well to life post-Mason Fine. The last time these two programs met it came down to the last 18 seconds where Reynolds found Tucker in the endzone to win it for Charlotte.

FAU (1-0) treks to Southern Miss to take on Jack Abraham and the Golden Eagles (1-3). Southern Miss broke a three-game losing streak with a 41-31 win over North Texas on Saturday as Frank Gore Jr. ran rampant.