It was a tale of two halves as the Charlotte 49ers lost to Florida Atlantic 21-17 on Saturday. The 49ers jumped out to a 10-point lead only to be outscored by Florida Atlantic 21 in the third quarter. Those three touchdowns proved to be enough for the Owls, who won their delayed season opener in a Conference USA matchup.
The 49ers had the ball in the FAU red zone in the final minute after a defensive stop with two minutes remaining, but quarterback Chris Reynolds was sacked on third down and Charlotte was stopped the following play as time expired.
1. The Willie Taggart era finally kicked off at Florida Atlantic after the Owls saw their first four originally scheduled games of the season postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Taggart — who was fired after going just 9-12 in 21 games over two seasons at Florida State and brought to Boca Raton to replace the departed Lane Kiffin — made the necessary halftime adjustments to lead FAU to a win in his debut.
The 49ers had a wait of their own, going three weeks between games after last week’s home opener against Georgia State was postponed and their visit to UNC the week before canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing.
2. FAU’s offense finally broke through in the third quarter, scoring on three straight drives to erase the 49ers’ 10-point lead and go up 21-10. The first score came on a designed sneak by quarterback Nick Tronti, who went 49 yards to give the Owls their first points of the season.
Then another long Tronti run, 35 yards down to the Charlotte 25, set up the second score, with the FAU quarterback hitting Logan Peterson for a 25-yard score on the next play.
3. The 49ers looked like they quickly reclaimed the lead on the next offensive play after Peterson’s touchdown when running back Aaron McAllister took a pass from Reynolds and went 75 yards to the end zone. But receiver Victor Tucker was improperly lined up on the line of scrimmage at the start of the play and was called for being an ineligible man downfield, negating the score. Two plays later, Reynolds fumbled and gave FAU the ball back in the red zone, and the Owls scored on the first play with 1:57 left in the third quarter.
“I mean, devastating, right?” said Charlotte coach Will Healy, who initially questioned the penalty call in the postgame press conference. “What is that, a 21-point swing? Because we go score a touchdown, and that would have put us up … and then instead they get a fumble and score.”
Number To Know
6:19 — The amount of time it took the Owls to score 21 points in the third quarter, turning a 10-0 deficit into a 21-10 lead.
They Said It
“When you get to halftime and you’re only up 10 to nothing and you felt like you were dominating the game … I mean, that game should have been 24 to nothing at halftime, 21 to nothing at halftime. So you knew you’d left some points out on the board you knew you missed some opportunities.”
— Will Healy, Charlotte coach
Player of the Game
Romeo McKnight, Charlotte defensive end — McKnight had stops on not one but two fourth-down attempts by FAU. The first came in the opening quarter, giving the 49ers the ball near midfield and leading to Charlotte’s first touchdown. The second was even bigger — McKnight led a group — which also included Tyriq Harris — of 49ers in stuffing FAU running back Larry McCammon III on fourth-and-1 in the red zone to give the 49ers back the ball with two minutes left. While the potential winning drive fizzled out deep in Florida Atlantic territory, Charlotte wouldn’t have even gotten that far without McKnight’s efforts.
McKnight, who came from Illinois State, didn’t decide to transfer to Charlotte until the Missouri Valley Conference pushed its season back to the spring due to the pandemic.
“He loves the game of football,” coach Will Healy said. “He’s working really hard at practice, and he’s done a great job of buying into what we’ve asked for him to do.”
It was a game of missed opportunities for the 49ers. Despite outgaining the Owls 396 to 315 and holding a 37:49 to 22:11 time of possession advantage for the game, Charlotte couldn’t capitalize on its early 10-0 lead. The 49ers were beat on the ground, getting just 82 yards on 41 carries while the Owls amassed 217 yards on 33 carries, led by Tronti’s 94 yards. And the normally sure-footed Jonathan Cruz missed two field goals — 48 yards in the second quarter and 44 yards in the third — that could have been the difference between a win and loss.