Charlotte runs over SC State in 24-3 season-opening victory

The Niners had 220 rushing yards in their home win over the Bulldogs

Charlotte quarterback Jalon Jones hands the ball off to running back Durell Robinson during the 49ers’ 24-3 win over South Carolina State on Saturday in Charlotte. (Jesse Deal / North State Journal)

CHARLOTTE — The Biff Poggi era is alive and well in Charlotte.

In their first game since officially joining the American Athletic Conference and with a new head coach, the 49ers put together a convincing 24-3 home win over South Carolina State at Jerry Richardson Stadium on Saturday night.

After a quiet first quarter in which neither team scored, 49ers freshman running back Durell Robinson provided the second quarter spark that Charlotte (1-0) needed.

Trailing 3-0 after a Bulldogs’ field goal, Robinson gave the Niners a boost with two straight first down runs. Quarterback Jalon Jones followed that with a 22-yard run down the sideline. Four snaps later, Jones juked multiple Bulldogs defenders as he scrambled for a 1-yard touchdown to give Charlotte a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Then with 4:12 left in the first half, Robinson ran up the middle for a 6-yard touchdown to make it 14-3.

“I’m really proud of our kids. They’re just so gritty,” Poggi said after the game. “We didn’t play great in the beginning, but there was no nonsense on the sideline. As I’ve said before, coaches don’t win games — the players do. And we are very proud of the defense, and I think they were stunning.”

Robinson had a team-high 71 rushing yards on 11 carries as the Niners outrushed the Bulldogs 220 to 109. Jones completed 13 of 19 passes for 126 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, adding 49 yards on the ground.

In all, the 49ers outgained SC State by a margin of 345 to 168 and finished with 24 unanswered points. 

“It’s an amazing feeling to play on an offense where you know everybody on the field can make a play,” Robinson said. “It’s the best feeling in the world. We all know that we got each other for our lows and our highs, so I expect that from all of us. You’re going to see a lot more of that.”

Following another SC State punt, Jones had three completions to wide receiver Jack Hestera, who led Charlotte in the game with 49 receiving yards in what was otherwise a run-heavy strategy.

“As you saw, we like to run the ball,” Poggi said.

The Niners end the drive and closed out the first half with a 45-yard field goal from kicker Kyle Cunanan to increase their lead to 17-3.

After going the entire first quarter without a first down, Charlotte had 12 first downs and 187 yards of offense in the second quarter.

The 49ers’ defense then took center stage.

With 4:41 left in the third quarter, Charlotte linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green stuffed SC State running back Jawarn Howell on a fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Then after a quick three-and-out by Charlotte’s offense, the Niners were able to stop the Bulldogs again on another fourth-and-1 attempt.

Cunanan missed a 33-yard field goal attempt that would have increased the Niners’ lead to 17, but midway through the fourth quarter Jones connected with tight end Bryce Kennon for a 36-yard touchdown to pad the lead.

Senior defensive back Wayne Jones led the Niners with 10 tackles, while freshman Kameron Jones came up with a late interception to end any chance of a Bulldogs comeback.

The Niners will look to improve to 2-0 when they travel to face Maryland (1-0) next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The Terrapins opened their season with a 38-6 home win over Towson in which quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa tallied four first half touchdowns.

“Nobody in this building thinks that what we did tonight is near good enough to win in Maryland,” Poggi said. “So we’ve got five days to get a heck of a lot better, and we will.”