Charlotte 49ers’ stretch of “meaningful games in November” starts on Saturday
By Richard Walker
Charlotte 49ers second-year head football coach Will Healy recognizes that his team missed an opportunity for the school’s first win over a Power Five conference opponent in last Saturday’s 53-19 loss at Duke.
That doesn’t mean Healy has lost excitement for his team and says more chances await beginning with Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at Middle Tennessee.
“I want us to be able to beat ACC schools when we have the opportunity,” Healy said during Monday’s zoom news conference. “That sounds great. But it’s a lot harder to do. That’s what we found out on Saturday. We were confident and went out and got our butts kicked.
“So we’re not there. But we can get there. That’s why I was excited about this job and why I’m excited about this team.”
Charlotte has four scheduled Conference USA games remaining. And a perfect record against Middle Tennessee, at Marshall on Nov. 21 and at home against Western Kentucky on Nov. 28 and Florida International on Dec. 5 could land the 49ers in the league title.
“I want to have meaningful games in November,” Healy said. “I’ve been really proud of them. Again, I get really frustrated when we lose football games around here because we need to be getting to a situation where we’re expecting to win all of them.”
In its first three league games, Charlotte (2-3, 2-1) lost at Florida Atlantic 21-17 after holding a first-half lead before winning back-to-back games at North Texas (49-21) and at home against UTEP (38-28).
Marshall (5-0, 3-0) and Florida Atlantic (2-1, 2-1) are atop the Conference USA East Division standings, followed by Charlotte, Middle Tennessee (2-5 2-3), Western Kentucky (2-5, 1-2) and Florida International (0-3, 0-1).
Said 49ers junior quarterback Chris Reynolds: “It’s playoff football right now. I think our guys know what’s at stake. Middle Tennessee is our focus right now.”
Charlotte veterans like Reynolds and senior defensive end Tyriq Harris can draw strength from how the 49ers turned around their season last season. A five-game winning streak to end the regular season – which included a 34-20 home win over Middle Tennessee – ensured the program’s first winning record (7-6) and its first ever bowl appearance.
“It’s all about us,” Harris said. “We have to understand our process.”
Charlotte (2-3, 2-1) at Middle Tennessee (2-5, 2-3)
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday (TV-ESPN plus, Radio-ESPN 730 AM in Charlotte)
Where: Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Series: Middle Tennessee leads series 4-1
Extra points: Charlotte fell to 0-3 all-time against ACC opposition and 0-6 all-time against Power Five competition in last Saturday’s 53-19 loss at Duke of the ACC. The 49ers will get two chances to get a first-ever win early next season as they have games scheduled against Duke at home on Sept. 6, 2021 and at Illinois of the Big Ten on Oct. 2, 2021….
Charlotte senior safety Ben DeLuca has 306 career tackles, which ties him with record-holder Jeff Gemmell….
The 49ers enter the game ranked third among FBS schools with a 35:08 average time of possession in their first five games….
If Charlotte plays on Saturday, it would mark the first time the 49ers have played three straight weeks; Three previously-scheduled games were cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19 issues (Sept. 19 at North Carolina cancelled, Sept. 26 at home against Georgia State postponed and Oct. 17 at home against Florida International postponed).
Local connections: Tre Harbison (2016 Crest graduate) is the 49ers leading rusher with 257 yards and four touchdowns on 64 carries in five games (four starts). Cameron Dollar (East Lincoln 2018) has nine catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns in five games (three starts). Calvin Camp (Shelby 2017) has 64 yards rushing and one touchdown, seven kickoff returns for 115 yards and has two tackles in five games. Gage Welborn (East Lincoln 2018) has played in three games. And Prince Bemah (Hunter Huss 2019) and D.J. Bagwell (Kings Mountain 2020) have yet to play in any games.
Next up: Charlotte hosts Gardner-Webb on Nov. 14 at noon in a game that became official on Wednesday. The 49ers return to Conference USA play at Marshall on Nov. 21 at 12:30 p.m.