The Charlotte 49ers football regular season has come to a close. With their 38-22 win over Old Dominion on Saturday, Nov. 30 the 49ers finished 7-5 on the season and have set a school record for wins in a season.
It seemed it would be a year of ups and downs early in the season but the 49ers have found themselves rewriting history. To earn their postseason appearance, it took a little bit of everything to put the program on the map.
The first stretch of the season wasn’t the best for Charlotte. After going 2-2 in non-conference play, the 49ers started off Conference-USA play with three straight losses. After that however, the Niners flipped a switch. From there, they won their next five games while averaging over 30 points a game.
“Winning five in a row is a big deal. Going 4-0 in November is a huge deal,” 49ers Head Coach Will Healy said about the turnaround. “This team was 7-5. That's resiliency. Tremendous job by this staff. Great job by this staff. Great job by these players of buying in and sticking with the plan and they got rewarded. Super proud of them.”
A change in culture
Up until 2019, Charlotte had not had a winning season. Since becoming an FBS program in 2015, the closest Charlotte had come to a winning season was in 2018 with five wins. Before that, they had endured a lot of losing seasons. This year, with a new head coach in Will Healy, it became apparent that Charlotte football’s culture was changing quickly. On top of winning games, Healy started a new tradition in “ClubLit.” After each win, the locker room would transform into a club and players and coaches would celebrate the win. This got attention across social media from the start of it and even some screen time on ESPN after the win against Marshall as clips of Healy celebrating went wildly viral.
“Slowly but surely it’s becoming cool to play football at Charlotte, which was a goal of ours,” Healy said. “Obviously we’re not even close to being done.”
A stable offensive core
Every good team needs a few players to turn to during big games. Charlotte they had a few of those. Quarterback Chris Reynolds, in his first full season, showed what he was capable of. He threw a career high 21 touchdowns and only threw 10 interceptions on the year. During the team’s five-game win streak, he upped his rushing game in each of those games, eclipsing 90 or more yards. Along with that, his passing numbers improved. Reynolds also happens to be one of the most efficient passers in the country. He had a passing efficiency rating of 155.10 and was 18th in the country in the category. He completed 166 of his 267 pass attempts.
The backfield for Charlotte did its part as well. Benny LeMay led the rushing attack. He was a top-50 rusher in the country and was 22nd in all-purpose yards with 1,279 total. He had 1,037 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Along with LeMay, redshirt junior Aaron McAllister was an efficient backup with 377 yards and five touchdowns. The 49ers had stars on the receiving end as well. Receivers Victor Tucker and Cameron Dollar led the way in that category. Tucker had 848 yards and five touchdowns, while Dollar had 551 yards and two touchdowns.
A talented defense
What has been missing in previous seasons has been a good combination of both a stellar offense and defense for Charlotte. This year, there’s no question they had both. The defense was led by NFL prospect Alex Highsmith. The redshirt senior linebacker finished second in the country in sacks with 14. He sits only behind Heisman hopeful Chase Young. He had plenty of help as fellow linebacker Markees Watts had eight sacks, good enough for 22nd in the country. As a team, Charlotte had 36 sacks and tied for 14th in the country in that category. The Charlotte defense excelled in an important category this year: red zone defense. They were 33rd in the nation when it came to efficiency down near the endzone.
Any team sitting team sitting at 2-5 knows their chances are slim when it comes to being bowl eligible. For the 49ers, they put those chances aside and brought their A-game after their rough start. In their first win during the streak, it was a comeback 39-38 victory against North Texas. Down 28-14 late in the third quarter, the 49ers raced back and scored 25 points in the span of 19 minutes. A Reynolds 34-yard pass to Victor Tucker put the 49ers ahead by one and sealed the deal. Another big win for the 49ers came on the road at UTEP. After a blowout win against Middle Tennessee, the 49ers were down 21-7 against the Miners going into halftime. They scored 21 unanswered points in the second half and won 28-21. The one win everyone will remember, though, was the last home game of the year. Against Marshall in the rain and cold, the 49ers battled back and forth and ran away with the game in the last ten minutes, winning 24-13. Against a traditionally powerful Conference USA team in Marshall, the win was even bigger for Charlotte. It was only their second win against the Thundering Herd and they went into the game as big underdogs. That win made Charlotte officially bowl eligible. They finished off their story book season against Old Dominion convincingly by a score of 38-22. With the win, Charlotte secured a winning percentage of .583, which was tied for 43rd best in the country.
Not done yet
All in all, the 2019 season is one the 49ers will never forget and they are not done yet. On Sunday, Dec. 1 it was announced that Charlotte will be playing in the Bahamas Bowl against Buffalo on Friday Dec. 20. In front of a national audience on ESPN, Charlotte (7-5) will play in their first-ever bowl game. Buffalo (7-5) will be looking for their first bowl win as well.