The atmosphere surrounding this noon matchup was special. Charlotte alumni, students and fans piled into Jerry Richardson Stadium with optimism, waiting to get a glimpse of Niners football in the aftermath of the Will Healy era.
The Hilltoppers had other plans.
Western Kentucky wasted no time getting on the board first. WKU elected to receive first, scoring in two plays, capped off by a 46-yard touchdown pass from QB Austin Reed to wide receiver Jaylen Hall.
The Niners did not have the same good fortune on their first drive. After facing continuous pressure, Chris Reynolds scrambled out of the pocket, throwing an off-balance pass that was intercepted by WKU cornerback Upton Stout. Upton went on to return the ball all the way down to Charlotte’s seven yard line.
The Hilltoppers scored on the next play, quickly moving the score to 14-0 early in the first quarter. Charlotte’s surprisingly slow start could be felt throughout the stadium.
The Niners seemed to have an issue with executing the fundamentals. Charlotte’s defense came up short on making tackles time and time again. This was most evident on a screen pass to WKU receiver Malachi Corley, who broke several tackles and took the ball 64 yards for a touchdown.
Interim HC Pete Rossomando had this to say on the poor tackling performance in today’s game:
“The main issue was that we did not get guys on the ground…we knew we needed to make those plays. When we did, we got stops. We didn’t do enough, we were not consistent enough, on either side of the ball.”
Despite receiving the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week Award last week, Charlotte QB Chris Reynolds struggled early and throughout this game. Reynolds threw an interception early in the first quarter, followed by a fumble on a designed quarterback run.
Western Kentucky finished the half up 35-0, despite losing the time of possession battle by nearly double (10:02 to 19:58). The Niners defense conceded big play after big play, due to poor tackling and execution in the backfield.
The Toppers took advantage of Charlotte’s secondary. Austin Reed had 14 pass completions in the first half, five of them resulted in touchdowns.
Charlotte made it a point to respond right out of the half. The Niners received the ball first, going on a 10-play,75-yard drive that culminated in a 14-yard Elijah Spencer reception for a touchdown.
Charlotte’s defense did not turn a corner in the second half. Instead, the Niners defense conceded another quick touchdown (4 plays - 45 yards - 34 seconds) to WKU, after an offside call gifted the Hilltoppers a free play.
The rest of the third quarter went by swiftly, with both teams remaining scoreless after their first drives out of the half. Late in the third quarter, Charlotte made a switch at the quarterback position, replacing Chris Reynolds with redshirt freshman Xavier Williams.
The quarterback woes continued for the Niners, as Xavier Williams threw an interception to linebacker Anthony Brackenridge for a pick-six.
The road does not get any easier for the Niners.
Charlotte faces an uphill battle for the remaining two games on their schedule. The message hasn’t changed, but there is a chance it is starting to fall on deaf ears. Consistency remains to be a problem for the Niners, as this team’s week-to-week performance is as unexpected as they come.
Charlotte RB Shadrick Byrd acknowledges how the team needs to get on the same page, stating in the post game presser “Once everybody walks in the building with the same mentality, Charlotte football will be perfectly fine”.
Final Score: WKU 59, Charlotte 7
Plethora of Records Broken
Both WKU and Charlotte had school records broken in this game. At the start of this matchup, Charlotte receiver Victor Tucker set the school record with his 47th career start.
Charlotte Kicker Antonio Zita set a single season school record with 32 consecutive PATs.
WKU Tight End Joshua Simon set a school record for receiving touchdowns, collecting the 14th of his career. Simon took the record away from previous Topper and current LA Ram Tyler Higbee.
Defensive End Markees Watts also set the school record in all-time sacks in the 2nd quarter (20.5). After deciding to come back for one more year at the beginning of the season, Markees reflected on having his name in the record books.
“At the beginning of the season, I expected it to happen in the first few games. Don’t put a clock on something thinking that it is going to happen. It was a lesson learned. Everything that is worth having, takes a great battle to have.”