The first meeting between in-state conference rivals was nothing short of exhilarating. ECU fought back after trailing 10-0, but a missed 48-yard field goal proved to be the difference in a 10-7 game.
Here’s how it went down.
Charlotte won the toss and chose to defer. Sophomore quarterback Mason Garcia started for the Pirates, but the Niners’ defense forced a quick three-and-out to begin the game.
Jalon Jones started at quarterback for Charlotte, replacing Trexler Ivey from last week’s loss to Navy. The Niners’ offense got off to a good start, as Jalon Jones made plays with his arms and legs to string together multiple first downs. Charlotte went for it on their first fourth down in ECU territory, converting the down on a designed QB run by Jones. Two plays later, an illegal forward pass penalty knocked off a splash play by the Niners, forcing them to settle for a field goal. Charlotte’s drive lasted seven minutes and 28 seconds, making it the longest drive (duration) of the season for the Niners.
Charlotte’s defense shined in the first quarter. The Niners’ front line was active early, forcing three three-and-outs, and not allowing the Pirates to convert one first down for the entire opening quarter.
Coach Poggi on Charlotte’s Defense Setting The Tone:
“Our defense is crazy good. Eyabi Okie-Anoma is an eraser on defense…he’s the leading sack guy in the conference. The guys in the back played well too, they all played good. I’m happy with everybody.”
A slew of penalties against Charlotte’s offense forced the Niners to punt the ball two minutes into the second quarter. Unfortunately for the Pirates, Mason Garcia’s struggles continued in the second quarter. Garcia missed receivers on crucial third downs, forcing the Pirates to punt the ball for the fourth consecutive time.
Charlotte converted their second fourth down of the game on a QB sneak up the middle, midway through the second quarter. Jalon Jones threw an interception on the next play to Pirates defensive back Julius Wood.
This turnover on downs set the Pirates up on the Niners’ 13-yard line. Charlotte’s defense held strong, forcing the Pirates into a 24-yard field goal that missed after the ball ricocheted off the right goalpost.
Half-Time QB Stats:
Mason Garcia - Passing: 4 for 12, 19 yards & Rushing: 5 carries, 12 yards
Jalon Jones - Passing: 4 for 9, 30 yards & Rushing: 11 carries, 52 yards
Charlotte received the ball to start the second half, going on an eight-play, 75-yard drive. Jalon’s dual-threat abilities gave Charlotte’s offense a much-needed second dimension. On the seventh play of the drive, Jalon connected on a thirty-yard pass to Duane Thomas Jr to set the Niners’ offense up at the Pirates one-yard line. On the next play, Jalon punched the ball into the end zone on a QB run, giving the Niners their first touchdown since September 30.
Coach Poggi on Jalon Jones:
“[Jalon] gutted out some incredible runs. He’s just a tough kid, he wanted to play so well, so badly. He also threw the ball well today, the interception was bad but the kid played really good. Jones rushed for 127 yards and threw for 144, that’s pretty dang good.”
ECU made a switch at quarterback midway through the third quarter, replacing Mason Garcia with Alex Flinn. Flinn began the drive with a couple of good passes on slant routes to his receivers, but the Pirates’ momentum came to a halt after a 32-yard pass to Jaylen Johnson was overturned for a loss of downs after an official review.
Charlotte continued playing complementary football, giving ECU’s defense fits with the RPO. The Niners ended the third quarter up 10-0, preparing to kick a field goal to start the fourth.
Charlotte kicker Jake Larson failed to convert a 45-yard field goal, giving the ball back to the Pirates near midfield.
The Niners had complete control of the game through the first three quarters, but the game turned on its head after a muffed punt by Al-Ma’hi Ali, giving ECU the ball back on the Niners’ ten-yard line. The Pirates scored two plays later, on a ten-yard pass from Alex Flinn to tight end Shane Calhoun, making the score 10-7.
Charlotte received the kickoff and proceeded to march down the field, sucking the energy right back out of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Jalon Jones designed runs and last-second pitches gave the Pirates trouble all evening. However, things turned sour once the Niners reached the red zone. Charlotte tight end Colin Weber was penalized with a personal foul (unnecessary roughness), pushing the Niners back to the 31-yard line. Jake Larson missed a 46-yard kick, keeping the score locked at 10-7, and leaving the door open for the Pirates to tie the game with a field goal.
The Niners came up with big stops down the stretch, despite ECU moving the ball downfield for a chance to tie the game. The biggest play of the game was made by Eyabi Okie-Anoma, sacking Alex Flinn for an 11-yard loss to knock the Pirates out of ideal position for a field goal. ECU kicker Andrew Conrad was forced to kick a 48-yard field goal for the tie, missing wide left and sealing the win for Charlotte.
What They Said
Charlotte’s defense knew the game rested on their shoulders, and they relished the opportunity. In a post-game interview, Defensive End Eyabi-Okie Anoma said “Put it on our back. We’d rather have it that way, I promise you. We will bite that bullet if we can’t come through, but we will come through. We can’t look each other in the eye and say we messed up.”
In Tuesday’s press conference, Coach Poggi stated, “Is it a rivalry? I hope it will become one, but for it to be a rivalry…these games need to be competitive, but I wouldn’t call it that quite yet.” After the game when asked the same question, Coach Poggi simply stated, “Maybe it is now.”
Charlotte picked up their first AAC conference win in program history, but the Niners have many mistakes to clean up. They will face FAU on Friday in hopes of capturing their first win streak of the season.