The Charlotte 49ers (6-5) are bowl eligible for the first time in program history after beating the Marshall Thundering Herd (7-4) 24-13 at home. It was a rainy day, which forced both teams to run the ball at a higher rate. Both teams also combined for five total turnovers on the day.
The home team was led by quarterback Chris Reynolds who ran for 145 yards and a touchdown, the second time in two weeks he’s eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
The 49ers started out on defense after Marshall elected to receive, but just two plays in they forced the turnover when Marquill Osborne intercepted the ball from quarterback Isaiah Green.
Charlotte wouldn’t hold on to the ball for long though as once again and two plays later, Charlotte Reynolds threw an interception back to the visiting team.
After a Marshall punt, the 49ers marched down the field after a 29-yard pass by Reynolds to tight end Christian Roberson. But two plays later, Reynolds fumbled the ball on a scramble out of the pocket, giving Marshall the ball back in their own territory. Three plays later Charlotte forced a punt after Marshall’s drive sputtered out before crossing the 50 yard line.
With 3:02 left in the first quarter, the Thundering Herd scored first as a Charlotte punt attempt was blocked inside their own ten yard line by Darius Hodge and returned for a six-yard score by Marshall cornerback Early Joseph. Down 7-0, the 49ers were still unable to move the ball as the team was forced to punt on the ensuing possession. On the next Marshall drive, the 49ers wrapped up Green in the backfield, but the defensive lineman was be unable to get him to the ground before he got a pass off. Running back Brenden Knox received the pass and ran for 40 yards before being knocked out of bounds in Charlotte territory. The next play was a 15 yarder by running back Xavier Gaines, but the Niners held strong and forced the visiting team to settle for a 31-yard field goal, leaving the 49ers down 10-0 at the half.
“We wanted it too bad, me included,” said Head Coach Will Healy. “[In the] second half we calmed down a little bit. [The] defense played great all night long, and we made enough plays on offense to overcome some of the turnovers and the blocked punt.”
Charlotte started with the ball to open the second half and Benny LeMay came alive for the first time in the game. On second-and-six, LeMay scampered for 30 yards and a first down in Marshall territory. The rush carried LeMay over 3,000 career rushing yards, making him one of two career rushers in 49ers’ history to achieve the feat. Reynolds then completed a pass to Tucker for 12 yards. On third-and-five from Marshall’s five yard line, Reynolds rushed but went down for a loss. The team settled for a 31-yard field goal by kicker Jonathan Cruz. Marshall responded with a 12-play, 60-yard drive that took up over five minutes of the third quarter, capped off by a field goal to give Marshall the three point lead, 13-10.
A few drives later, the 49ers began to pick up steam marching down the field. The team rushed six times for 57 yards before wide receiver Victor Tucker ran in for the score from six yards out on his first career rushing touchdown to put the 49ers up 17-13 with 13 minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
The Thundering Herd was unable to respond, failing to gain more than 20 yards in the next two possessions combined. Meanwhile, the 49ers scored one last time on a deep pass to receiver Tucker once more for an acrobatic catch with 48 seconds remaining.
“[It was] pretty cool with the students coming on the field, the fans coming out there,” said Coach Healy. “I told our guys we’re not done. My plan isn’t to get to a bowl game, but to win a bowl game. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
The team’s next game will take place against ODU on Saturday, Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. in Norfolk, Va.