Charlotte comes up short in overtime loss to Memphis

The Niners led 38-28 midway through the fourth quarter

CHARLOTTE — The 49ers fell just short of an upset win over Memphis on Saturday as the Tigers pulled through 44-38 in overtime at Jerry Richardson Stadium.

A missed 37-yard field goal by Charlotte kicker Kyle Cunanan in the Niners’ first possession of overtime was followed by a 2-yard game-winning rush up the middle by Memphis running back Blake Watson.


Charlotte was leading 38-28 midway through the fourth quarter before Tigers quarterback Seth Henigan connected with Watson in the end zone.

Charlotte punted on the following drive, and Memphis drove far enough for kicker Tanner Gillis to tie the game on a 41-yard field goal with 35 seconds on the clock.

Charlotte’s overtime loss came just one week after its overtime road win at Tulsa.

The Niners dropped to 3-7 (2-4 American Athletic Conference) on the year — knocking them out of bowl eligibility — while the Tigers moved up to 8-2 (5-1 AAC) and fourth place in the conference.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Charlotte coach Biff Poggi said he was impressed with his team’s resilience against a conference heavyweight.

“The football team is getting better every second,” Poggi said. “(Memphis) is a team that’s going to be in the championship conversation in this league. Am I pissed we didn’t win? Yes, I am, and my gut is ripped open about it. But I’m proud of our team and I’m proud of our coaches. We’re building something here that matters, and I’m not going to take any crap about anything else as far as that goes.”

It was a coming-out party for sophomore running back Hahsaun Watson, who entered the game with just a single carry with the Niners but had 24 carries for 198 yards and three touchdowns. 

“He earned a scholarship today. He’s a walk-on player and he’s going to get a scholarship in December,” Poggi said. 

Watson’s first score was a 23-yard touchdown with 2:18 left in the first half that put the Niners up 17-7 before Henigan quickly tossed a 35-yard touchdown to wide receiver DeMeer Blankumsee.

Henigan finished the game 32-of-48 passing for 329 yards and two touchdowns.

Complementing Watson’s stellar play, Charlotte running back Joachim Bangda added 36 yards on the ground with two touchdowns.

Tight end Colin Weber was a bright spot on offense with 117 yards on five catches, but Charlotte couldn’t get much going in the passing game.

With Niners quarterback Jalon Jones continuing to recover from a thigh injury, Trexler Ivey was held to 168 passing yards and threw four interceptions, doubling his total interceptions on the season.

Early in the third quarter, Ivey threw his third interception of the game, and Memphis’ Chandler Martin returned it 60 yards for a touchdown to put the Tigers up 21-17.

“We’ve got to continue to play better and stop making so many mistakes,” Poggi said. “You can’t win a game if you throw four interceptions. I don’t care if you’re the Cleveland Browns, you can’t win. The thing that kept us in the game was our rushing of the football. Quite frankly, (Memphis) has a really good offense and a really good player, but I was disappointed in how we played on defense.”

Linebackers Demetrius Knight II and Nikhai Hill-Green each led Charlotte with 11 tackles, while Knight and defensive back Marcus Robitaille each notched interceptions. 

Charlotte’s defensive unit played well in the first half of the game but then struggled with Henigan’s downfield passing.

“We’re learning how to finish games and you gotta learn how to do it,” Poggi said. “These guys just outplayed us in the last five minutes, and that’s why they won the game, because in the first 55 minutes we outplayed them except for the opening drive.”

The Niners will host Rice (4-5, 2-3 AAC), who rank 20th in the nation in passing yards (288 yards) thanks to the combination of quarterback JT Daniels and wideout Luke McCaffrey, next Saturday.