Will they ever play at home? Repeated postponements cause frustration, anxiety for Charlotte 49ers
By Richard Walker
The Charlotte 49ers are scheduled to host UTEP on Saturday at noon in their home opener at Richardson Stadium.
Yes, you’ve heard that before.
Yes, the 49ers are frustrated that it’s taken so long to have their first home game.
And yes, until just before kickoff on Saturday, the 49ers can’t be completely sure they’ll have a home opener.
“Obviously you just have fingers crossed that we’ll get to play,” Charlotte head coach Will Healy said during Tuesday’s weekly zoom news conference. “It’s very frustrating. But I’m proud of how the guys have responded.”
Twice previously and three times so far this season Charlotte has had one of its football games postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
And that’s not counting a previous schedule that was altered earlier this year as the school and Conference USA officials decided they were going to try and play games even as the pandemic continues to cause scheduling problems.
“Here we are: It’s 2020,” Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds said during Tuesday’s weekly news conference. “It makes us that much more excited to play at home.”
Each of the previous cancellations have come after 49ers players have gone through virtually all of their preparations for games.
A day before the Sept. 26 home game with Georgia State, a Charlotte 49ers news release at 2:25 p.m. on Sept. 25 announced the game has been postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests at Georgia State. (Georgia State later revealed it could’ve actually played and the tests were false positives.)
Last Thursday, a school news release at 10:34 p.m. the Florida International game slated for Saturday had been postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests at FIU.
Also, Charlotte’s first-ever meeting with North Carolina that was slated for Sept. 19 was cancelled two days earlier due to contact tracing concerns about the 49ers offensive line.
So have players been holding their collective breath in anticipation of playing each week?
“Yeah, it gets to that point,” Charlotte linebacker Tyler Murray said during Tuesday’s weekly zoom news conference. “But we’re trying to stay positive knowing we’ve got an opportunity to play.”
Last week’s cancellation altered the way Healy normally would’ve handled an off week.
After he met with team captains Reynolds, Ben DeLuca, Jaelin Fisher and Tyriq Harris, Healy opted to give his players some down time.
“Our guys wanted a break,” Healy said. “They just wanted to get away from it.”
So instead of traditional practice drills, the 49ers went through conditioning last Friday, weight training on Saturday and COVID-19 testing on Sunday.
“We had something every day but we wanted them to get away from it,” Healy said.
Not playing a scheduled game for the third time in five weeks, “feels like a loss in a lot of ways,” Healy said.
Reynolds summed it up this way: “You go through the whole week prepping .. and it kind of takes that air out of you.”
And in a year in which many other teams have also been affected – 33 games nationally have been postponed already this season – Charlotte still seeks a chance to win a league title.
Entering this week, the 49ers (1-2, 1-2) are in third place of the Eastern Division of Conference USA. They trail unbeaten Marshall (4-0, 2-0) and Florida Atlantic (1-0, 1-0). Charlotte lost 21-17 at Florida Atlantic on Oct. 3 and plays at Marshall on Nov. 21.
With that in mind, Healy says the distractions haven’t kept him from looking at his preseason goals for the team.
“The challenge and the goal still remains for us,” Healy said. “How good will this football team be at the end of the year?”
UTEP (3-2, 0-1 C-USA) at Charlotte (1-2, 1-1 C-USA)
When: Noon Saturday (TV-ESPN+)
Where: Richardson Stadium, Charlotte
Series: Charlotte leads 1-0, a 28-21 at UTEP last season
Extra points: Charlotte hopes to play its home opener for the third time this season. Previous home openers against Georgia State (Sept. 26) and Florida International (Oct. 17) were postponed due to COVID-19 issues at those schools. Whenever Charlotte plays at home, it’ll easily be the latest home opener in the school’s brief football history. Only one other game is slated: Nov. 28 against Western Kentucky….
In Charlotte’s last game, a 49-21 win at North Texas on Oct. 10, the 49ers set school records for Conference USA play in points (49), touchdowns (7) and total offense (599)….
Charlotte has six first-year players listed as started and 15 first-year players (eight offense and seven defense) on its two-deep depth chart….
Charlotte’s time of possession average is 34:46, which ranks 2nd in the nation.
Local connections: Tre Harbison (2016 Crest graduate) leads the 49ers in rushing 187 yards and three touchdowns on 46 carries in three starts. Cameron Dollar (East Lincoln 2018) has seven catches for 121 yards and one touchdown in three games (two starts). Calvin Camp (Shelby 2017) has 45 yards rushing and one touchdown and three kickoff returns for 53 yards in three games. And Gage Welborn (East Lincoln 2018) has played in one game. Prince Bemah (Hunter Huss 2019) and D.J. Bagwell (Kings Mountain 2020) have yet to play in any games.
Next up: Charlotte plays at Duke on Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. It’ll be the 49ers’ first meeting ever against an in-state ACC opponent.