49ers fall 38-31 as comeback falls short

Charlotte nearly pulls out win despite trailing by 18 in the third quarter

Derik Hamilton—X02835
Sep 24

Charlotte (4-7, 3-4 Conference-USA) will finish the season winless in Conference-USA home games after a last-minute loss to Middle Tennessee (7-4, 4-3 Conference-USA). Saturday’s result means the 49ers will not be able to become bowl eligible, even if they knock off Texas-San Antonio in the season finale.After a furious rally to tie the score at 31 with 4:53 to play, Charlotte had the ball with a chance to take a lead, but ended up losing 38-31. Following a three-and-out by the 49ers, Middle Tennessee began what proved to be the game-winning drive with 2:14 left. On the fourth play of the drive, Blue Raiders running back Ty Lee tore through the line of scrimmage and raced virtually untouched to the end zone. His 61-yard score took place with 72 seconds to play, leaving the 49ers with a chance to force overtime. But Charlotte’s drive stalled after the 49ers got inside the Middle Tennessee 40-yard line, as quarterback Hasaan Klugh threw two incompletions and was sacked on third down to set up fourth-and-20. His pass on the game-deciding down sailed over the head of his target. Charlotte trailed 31-13 late in the third quarter, but came all the way back thanks largely to a huge interception by linebacker Daquan Lucas, whose 4-yard return put the ball at the Middle Tennessee 8-yard line with five minutes, 15 seconds remaining. Charlotte cut the MTSU lead to 31-29 one play later when Klugh found wide receiver Workpeh Kofa for an 8-yard touchdown. The 49ers converted the game-tying two-point conversion on a reverse pass, with wide receiver Austin Duke firing a low but on-target pass to a diving Klugh. Charlotte’s defense struggled mightily in the first half. The Blue Raiders picked up 24 yards on their first play from scrimmage and moved the ball with ease on their first two drives. Middle Tennessee went 75 yards in nine plays to go up 7-0, then made it 14-0 with a 76-yard drive after a Charlotte three-and-out.The 49ers then kept the Blue Raiders scoreless until late in the half, but Middle Tennessee created enough big plays to lead 24-6 at the break. MTSU finished the half with 12 first downs and 272 yards of offense, including 99 on the ground. Charlotte entered the game with C-USA’s third-best run defense, and had held three of its last four opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. But the 49ers became the latest team to have major problems corralling I’Tavius Mathers. Middle Tennessee’s star running back finished with 16 carries for 101 yards and had six receptions for 43 yards. The Blue Raiders piled up a total of 221 yards on the ground. Offensively, Charlotte had success between the 20s, but came away with no points despite getting inside the 15-yard line on three different occasions. Late in the first quarter, Charlotte reached the Middle Tennessee 9-yard line, but ended up having to attempt a field goal from 57 yards out — which was blocked — after back-to-back personal fouls.A second quarter drive by the 49ers failed to generate points after it reached the MTSU 13, as quarterback Hasaan Klugh was sacked for a 7-yard loss. Charlotte elected to go for it on fourth-and-11 from the 20, but Klugh’s pass was off the mark. The 49ers also could have tied the game sooner than they did in the fourth quarter, but failed to move the chains on fourth-and-2 from the MTSU 3-yard line. That failure on fourth down did pin the Blue Raiders just a yard from their end zone, setting up Lucas’s pick a few snaps later.