Charlotte defeated UTEP 28-21 to claim their first road victory of the season. The win also places Charlotte one win shy of being bowl eligible.
“That’s a great, gutty win,” said Charlotte Head Coach Will Healy. “That’s (UTEP) a really good football team that’s going to turn the corner, [but] we were fortunate to make some plays down the stretch.”
After the first quarter, it appeared as if the 49ers’ struggles to win on the road would persist as the UTEP offense and quarterback Kai Locksley controlled the time of possession by orchestrating two long, time-consuming drives that resulted in touchdowns. Additionally, the UTEP defense disrupted the 49ers’ offensive rhythm when defensive back Michael Lewis curtailed Charlotte’s lone first-quarter possession by intercepting quarterback Chris Reynolds’ pass. The Miners’ offense had 145 all-purpose yards at the end of the first quarter. In contrast, the 49ers’ offense produced a meager 37 first quarter all-purpose yards.
“Winning on the road is really hard in this conference. You can see it in the standings,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds and the offense began to gain momentum in the second quarter as Charlotte started on offense. Early in the drive, the 49ers found themselves in a fourth-and-one situation. Healy and the 49ers’ decided to go for it and called upon second-string running back Aaron McAllister to make the play in the absence of star running back Benny LeMay. McAllister delivered with a one-yard run that moved the chains and kept the 49ers’ drive alive.
“I’ve said it for a long time we have amazing depth there (at running back),” said Reynolds. “Benny is our guy, he’s our playmaker, but it’s amazing to see A-Mac (McAllister) and Ishod [Finger] step up.”
Then, Reynolds moved the chains again with two rushing attempts of his own. Later, Reynolds connected with Cameron Dollar on two consecutive passes for 20 and 13 yards, respectively, to put the 49ers in the red-zone. Reynolds concluded the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Ringwood to trim the UTEP lead to 14-7.
The Miners’ defense would hold the 49ers scoreless throughout the remainder of the second quarter, and Locksley led a run-heavy scoring drive that culminated in a Treyvon Hughes three-yard touchdown run just before halftime.
Charlotte flipped the script on both sides of the ball in the second half. The 49er defense forced three punts, one turnover on downs, and only allowed 117 all-purpose yards. Their efforts garnered a second-half shutout as Henry Segura sealed the 49ers’ victory by intercepting Locksley on the Miners’ final drive of the game.
“Those guys (the Charlotte defense) work really hard,” said Healy. “We’re continuing to get better on that side of the ball, and what they did in the second half -- holding them scoreless -- was huge.”
On offense, the 49ers got off to a quick start in the second half by quickly assembling a three-minute drive down the field that culminated in Johnathan Cruz 45-yard field goal. After the defense forced a UTEP punt, Reynolds initiated a scoring drive by connecting with Dollar on a 49-yard pass that put Charlotte on the Miners’ 24-yard line. Reynolds capped the drive off with a seven-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Justin Jeffery that trimmed the UTEP lead to 21-18.
Cruz delivered again with a 34-yard field goal on the 49ers’ ensuing drive that tied the game at 21-21.
After watching a 14-point lead slip out of their hands, Locksley and the UTEP offense started to play with a sense of urgency. Locksley took it upon himself, with rushes of four, nine and 38 yards to put the Miners’ in the red zone. The Miners then moved the ball to the Charlotte four-yard line in a fourth-and-goal situation. The Miners decided to go for it and the 49ers defense held, forcing a turnover on downs.
The Charlotte offense then drove 95 yards down the field to take a 28-21 lead with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Reynolds to tight end Jacob Hunt.
Both offenses were incapable of producing even a first down on their next two drives.
With 2:36 left to play, Locksley and the Miners had one last opportunity to tie the game and force overtime. The Miners took the ball to the 21-yard line behind several runs and passes of nine and 28 yards from Locksley to Jacob Cowing, urging Healy to call a timeout. On the Miners’ ensuing play, Segura intercepted Locksley’s pass to seal the 49ers victory.
“We made plays down the stretch to win the football game; Henry making a big play at the end, that’s awesome. That’s worth celebrating for sure,” said Healy.
Reynolds echoed Healy’s regards after the game and commended the defense for their second-half shutout.
“Our defense played unbelievable today,” said Reynolds.
Charlotte enters the bye week on the cusp of bowl-eligibility with a 5-5 overall record and will return to Jerry Richardon Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 23 to take on Marshall at 3:30 p.m.