Can Charlotte 49ers record a signature win on Saturday night?

By Richard Walker

Ever since the Charlotte 49ers football program started in 2013, the program knew it was beginning in the shadows of the Atlantic Coast Conference since this region can claim large groups of Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest fans.

Former East Lincoln standout Cam Dollar makes a catch during the Charlotte 49ers’ 38-28 win over UTEP last Saturday. [Charlotte49ers.com photo]
It also meant the school’s fanbase would be eagerly anticipating every chance it got whenever it played against the ACC.

Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Duke is the 49ers current opportunity and possibly their best chance for a signature win over the ACC that the program so desires.

“I think it’s a great chance for us to keep establishing our program,” Charlotte junior wide receiver Victor Tucker said during Tuesday’s weekly zoom news conference. “I think it’ll be a huge thing for Charlotte football.”

Duke enters with a 1-5 record following an off week.

What that means is that it’ll be the first time Charlotte has played against a non-ranked ACC team.

In 2016, Lamar Jackson and No. 19 Louisville routed the 49ers 70-14 in the season-opener for both teams. Last year, Charlotte lost 52-10 at No. 1-ranked Clemson. Even this year’s game at North Carolina that was cancelled due to COVID-19 issues on the 49ers team would’ve come when the Tar Heels were were ranked No. 12.

So how does second-year 49ers’ head coach Will Healy look at his Conference USA team’s opportunity in what could be the final non-conference game of the season?

“I think it’s big to get in that Raleigh-Durham area,” Healy said. “And Duke is a team that everybody across the nation respects.

“We’ve got to go play well. You can help your brand if you take advantage of these kinds of opportunities.”

Charlotte’s pursuit of success as a non-ACC North Carolina FBS (Football Bowl Series) school has the 49ers in uncharted waters.

Two previous non-ACC FBS schools in the state – East Carolina and Appalachian State – had lots of success at two levels before making the leap to FBS competition.

East Carolina won one Carolinas Conference title and four Southern Conference titles and had beaten ACC schools N.C. State and North Carolina before becoming a FBS school in 1977. The Pirates actually won their first FBS game in their 1977 opener at N.C. State

Appalachian State won six Carolinas Conference titles, 12 Southern Conference titles and three FCS (Football Championship Series) national titles and had beaten Wake Forest of the ACC and, most famously, Michigan of the Big Ten before becoming a FBS school in 2014. The Mountaineers lost seven straight games against FBS competition before winning at North Carolina last season.

“Obviously we’re recruiting the Carolinas hard,” Healy said. “We’ve gotten good feedback from people who know who were are and what we’re about. You’re not going to win all the (recruiting) battles when you face a Power Five school or other schools in the state that have more tradition than you do.”


Saturday’s game:

Charlotte (2-2) at Duke (1-5)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday (TV-Fox Sports Southeast)
Where: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham
Series: First meeting

Extra points: Charlotte is coming off its home opener – two previous home openers had been postponed due to COVID-19 issues at Georgia State (Sept. 26) and Florida International (Oct. 17) – and scored 24 straight points to down UTEP 38-28 to improve to 2-1 in Conference USA play….
Second-year head coach Will Healy has a close connection to Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe’s adopted son, Marcus Hilliard, is senior associate athletic director at Austin Peay – or the school where Healy was head coach before coming to Charlotte….
Charlotte senior safety Ben DeLuca is six career tackles shy of the 306 recorded by school record-holder Jeff Gemmell….
Charlotte junior wide receiver Victor Tucker is 116 yards shy of 2,000 career receiving yards.

Local connections: Tre Harbison (2016 Crest graduate) is the 49ers second-leading rusher with 200 yards and three touchdowns on 51 carries in four starts. Cameron Dollar (East Lincoln 2018) has nine catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns in four games (three starts). Calvin Camp (Shelby 2017) has 50 yards rushing and one touchdown, four kickoff returns for 69 yards and has two tackles in four games. Gage Welborn (East Lincoln 2018) has played in two games. And Prince Bemah (Hunter Huss 2019) and D.J. Bagwell (Kings Mountain 2020) have yet to play in any games.

Next up: Charlotte plays at Conference USA rival Middle Tennessee on Nov. 7 at 3:30 p.m.