The Charlotte 49ers lost their first conference matchup of the season 45-27 against the FAU Owls.
“I thought [FAU] got after us and were ready to play, and played really good football,” said Charlotte Head Coach Will Healy. “Obviously I think Lane and his staff did a great job and we knew they’d be well-coached, ready to play, and they had great athletes.”
Charlotte got off to a slow start in the first quarter. The 49ers’ first drive of the game resulted in the Owls forcing a three-and-out behind two sacks and an incomplete pass. In contrast, the Owls moved the ball down the field in the blink of an eye. Owls receiver Deangelo Antoine started FAU’s first drive of the game by turning a simple end-around play into a 66 yard gain to the Charlotte three-yard line. On the ensuing play, Larry McCammon III capped off the 24-second, two-play drive with a three-yard touchdown run up the middle. However, the Owls were unable to connect on the extra point attempt.
The Owls then forced another Charlotte three-and-out behind the aggressive pass rush of Tim Bonner and Ray Ellis. However, on the Owls’ next offensive drive, senior linebacker Jeff Gemmell gave the 49ers momentum and excellent field position by intercepting quarterback Chris Robinson’s tipped pass. But, Charlotte was incapable of capitalizing on Gemmell’s interception as penalties negated big plays and untimely big sacks kept the 49ers behind the chains. After making a big stop, Robinson and the FAU offense rewarded their defense by conducting a three-minute, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated with a Malcolm Davidson three-yard touchdown run through the teeth of the 49er defense. The Owls were successful on the two-point conversion attempt to take a 14-0 advantage.
The 49ers responded on the next drive as Benny LeMay and Chris Reynolds exchanged carries for substantial gains that placed the 49ers just outside of the red zone. With the Owls’ defense on their heels anticipating a run, the Charlotte coaching staff dialed up a play-action pass that drew the defense in just enough for Reynolds to lob a high-arching pass over the defense into the hands of wide receiver Victor Tucker for a 24-yard touchdown pass. Johnathan Cruz connected on the extra point to trim the FAU lead to 14-7.
The Owls answered the 49ers scoring drive with one of their own that culminated in a Vladimir Rivas 31-yard field goal. The 49ers and Owls then exchanged several scoreless drives due to missed field goals, interceptions and forced punts. Charlotte broke the scoring-drought on their sixth drive of the game. During the drive, the 49ers ran a reverse end around to wide receiver Cameron Dollar who passed the ball to Reynolds in the flat. Reynolds made several Owls miss on his way to a 28-yard gain. The drive concluded with Reynolds finding Jacob Hunt for a one-yard touchdown. The score trimmed the Owls’ lead down to 17-14.
With 3:26 left in the second quarter, the Owls looked to score and extend their lead before halftime. The 49er defense held the FAU offense and put them in 4th-and-one deep in their own territory. The Owls went for it and the pass fell incomplete; however, Charlotte was called for an offsides penalty, giving the Owls momentum.
“They get a 4th and 1 and we jump offsides. Lack of discipline, and that can’t happen, that cost us seven points,” said Healy.
The Owls, with momentum, orchestrated a quick scoring drive that culminated in an 18-yard touchdown pass to Tavaris Harrison. The Owls led 24-14 at the end of the first half.
The Owls received the opening second half kickoff but were unable to extend their lead as the 49er defense forced a punt. Charlotte’s offense took advantage and drove 70 yards down the field into the red zone behind a 35-yard pass to Cameron Dollar and quality running from Reynolds and LeMay. On Charlotte’s first play in the red zone, Reynolds was flushed out of the pocket but was able to find Aaron McAllister for a 16-yard touchdown pass. The score trimmed the Owls lead to 24-21.
Again, the Owls offense had an answer. On their eighth drive of the game, Reynolds connected with tight end Harrison Bryant on a 57-yard pass that put the Owls on the Charlotte six-yard line. It took Davis two carries up the middle to cap the drive off with a touchdown, giving FAU a 31-21 lead.
The Owls’ defensive pressure, however, was too much for the Charlotte offense to handle, as the Owls held the 49ers scoreless until the last minute of the fourth quarter.
“We went on a lull offensively for probably a ten or twelve-minute stretch,” said Healy. “They wore us down and got after us.”
After the McAllister touchdown drive, the FAU defense forced four three-and-outs and intercepted one pass.
“The three-and-outs are big, especially when you’re playing against their offense,” said Healy. “I knew time of possession would be an extremely important battle in this game. I know we got beat pretty bad in that and we can’t allow their offense to number one, create so many explosive plays, and number two, be on the field as long as they were.”
The Owls offense went on to score on two of their next three drives, stretching their lead to a comfortable 45-21 margin. Charlotte cut the FAU lead down to 45-27 with 13 seconds left in the game as Ishod Finger rushed for a five-yard touchdown.
“Frustrating to lose at home, embarrassing to get beat as bad as we did in the second half, but you have to give credit to Florida Atlantic,” said Healy.
Robinson and Reynolds led the game with 312 and 208 passing yards respectively, Davis and LeMay led the game in rushing yards with 83 and 50 respectively, and Bryant and Tucker led the game in receiving yards with 96 and 115 respectively. Additionally, Meiko Dotson recorded two interceptions and Alex Highsmith broke Larry Ogunjobi’s single-season record for sacks.
The 49ers enter their bye week with a 2-3 record.
“I don’t ever like sitting on a loss during the off week,” said Healy, “but it will give us some time to get some guys healthy and let us think a little bit about what our goals are."
The 49ers’ next matchup is Saturday, Oct. 12 on the road against the 1-3 FIU Panthers at 7 p.m.
“I don’t expect anything different than they’ve responded every time adversity has hit them for the last ten months,” said Healy. “I have zero question that we will respond at a very high level. This is not the end of what we’re trying to do here; this is a roadblock.”