A comparison was drawn during the second half of Friday night’s Middle Tennessee-Charlotte game, conjuring up ghosts of Blue Raider’s past.
“So Chase Cunningham is Asher O’Hara lite?” contemplated the anonymous instigator.
Not so fast - one of these things is not like the other one, despite the fact that the redshirt junior QB did lead the team in rushing with nine carries for 65 yards in the Blue Raiders 42-39 loss to the 49ers.
“Terrible comparison,” laughed O’Hara when asked about Cunningham’s performance tonight. “No need to compare us, he’s his own player. He’s a beast.”
Beastmode was definitely activated for the Knoxville, Tennessee native who threw for 379 yards and five touchdowns, completing 28 of his 40 attempted passes. But even the 35-points Cunningham contributed wasn’t enough to stop Charlotte’s equally potent passing game.
The 49ers put up 539 yards of offense, 339 of those coming from redshirt senior quarterback Chris Reynolds, who also finished with four touchdowns to three different receivers on his way to breaking the school’s all-time record for passing TD’s. And not to be outdone by Cunningham, Reynolds also added nine carries for 32 yards and another touchdown.
Cunningham edged Reynolds when it came to spreading the love however, throwing TD’s to five different receivers while proving he’s no O’Hara lite, even though he might have picked up a few tricks from the departed QB.
“Watching Asher these past two years probably made me a better runner, getting to watch him do those things,” admitted Cunningham after the game. “That’s cool he said that though.”
It was a tale of two halves, with the first bringing out both squad’s competitive sides but the second was a true testament to each team’s character and the third quarter being that pivotal turning point for the 49ers. Charlotte not only outscored MTSU in the third and put up more offensive yards, but the defense also held the Blue Raiders to 0-2 on third down and only allowed them to possess the ball for 3:52.
“You just feel really good when this football team’s playing that we’re going to find ways to win games,” said Charlotte head coach Will Healy. “Tonight was no different. ’Response’ is something we talked about all week. Responded really well when adversity hit.”
So while it may have taken Charlotte longer to find its flow, once the 49ers started vibing no amount of Blue Raider rebuttals could stop them - once the Charlotte sideline started “Swag Surfin’” it was lights out.
But back to the run game, which continued to be a problem for Middle Tennessee, who only got 58 yards from players not named Chase Cunningham.
“We still have got to find a way to run the ball with our running backs,” said Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill post-game. “You don’t want to come out of a game when your quarterbacks the leading rusher, unless you are running an offense designed for the quarterback to run.”
Another key point in the anti-O’Hara comparison case. Even Stockstill isn’t corroborating the correlation.
“I don’t think he’s the runner that Asher was, Asher was a really, really special runner from the quarterback position,” explained Stockstill. “Chase is a good athlete…I’m not surprised with his running ability. I do not think he’s near the runner as good as Asher was. But he’s a guy that can get you I think 30 or 40 yards a game rushing where Asher was going to get 100. If Chase can get a couple first downs running the ball that will help our offense.”
As Middle Tennessee will look to sort out its ground game against Marshall at home next Saturday, the Charlotte 49ers will ride the vibe to Illinois and prepare for a fight with the 1-3 Illini.