Charlotte 49ers Prepare For North Texas

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte (0-2; C-USA: 0-1) travels to North Texas (1-2; C-USA: 0-1), Saturday, with both teams in search of their first C-USA win. Charlotte will be playing its third straight home game to open the 2020 season. The 49ers opened league play, last week, at defending C-USA Champion FAU, falling, 21-17. After trailing 21-10 after three quarters, the 49ers’ come-from-behind effort stalled at the FAU nine-yard line as the clock expired. Charlotte lost its first two games (at nationally-ranked App State; at defending C-USA Champ FAU) by a combined 19 points.

CLT leads the series, 1-0, after winning last year’s first meeting in dramatic fashion to kickstart the program’s bowl-clinching five-game win streak to end the regular season. Charlotte staged its largest fourth-quarter comeback at the FBS level to rally from a 14-point deficit and win, 39-38. Charlotte scored three touchdowns to outscore North Texas 18-3 in the fourth quarter, winning the game on Chris Reynolds’ 34-yard TD pass to Victor Tucker with 18 seconds left. DT Timmy Horne blocked a 43-yard FGA in the fourth quarter and DE Markees Watts strip-sacked QB Mason Fine on the final play of the game.

This is Season 8 of Charlotte 49ers football and year 6 at the FBS level. The 49ers football program began in 2013 and spent two years as an FCS Independent before taking a fast-track to FBS as a member of Conference USA in 2015. In 2019, Charlotte enjoyed its first winning season and participated in its first bowl game: 2019 Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl. Second-year head coach Will Healy is the second coach in program history.

In Healy’s first season, the 49ers used a school-record five-game win streak to record the best season in school history and advance to its first-ever bowl game. Charlotte won each of its last five regular-season games to become bowl eligible with a 7-5 regular-season record. The 49ers set school records for wins (7), C-USA wins (5), home wins (5), passing TDs (24), rushing yards (2639), sacks (36) and TFL (86).

In the league opener at FAU, QB Chris Reynolds (314 yds) notched his third career 300-yard passing game. In doing so, Reynolds became the 2nd player in school history to surpass 4,000 passing yards (4,191 yds). WR Victor Tucker (118 yds) recorded his ninth career 100-yd. receiving game. In two games, Reynolds has connected with nine different receivers.

Charlotte is replacing two NFL draft picks (DE Alex Highsmith, Steelers; OL Cam Clark, Jets), a two-time 1,000-yard rusher (RB Benny LeMay, Browns practice squad) and the school’s all-time leading tackler (LB Jeff Gemmell). Up steps sixth-year star Tyriq Harris, a DE who received an NCAA waiver after missing all of last season; four-star recruit Ty’kieast Crawford on the O-Line; Northern Illinois transfer RB Tre Harbison, who had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the Huskies and Troy transfer LB Tyler Murray, who sat out last season as an NCAA transfer and recorded 14 tackles with an FF; FR and INT in his debut at App State.

Charlotte has six first-year players among its probable starters and 15 (eight off.; seven def.) newcomers on the two-deep. Among those making an immediate impact: Troy transfer LB Tyler Murray, NIU transfer RB Tre Harbison, starting defensive tackles Siah Sa’o (Vanderbilt) and Mikel Horton (Wofford), and starting O-linemen Ashton Gist (Northwest Miss. CC) and fr. Ty’kieast Crawford, as well as Duke transfer DB Antone Williams, Illinois State transfer DE Romeo McKnight and freshman TE Taylor Thompson.

Charlotte came back from halftime deficits to claim three wins during 2019’s breakthrough five-game win streak to end the regular season.  Charlotte needed second-half comebacks in wins over North Texas, UTEP and Marshall and scored the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter of each. In the decisive fourth quarters, they outscored the Mean Green, Miners and Herd, 39-3.

LB Tyler Murray, a transfer from Troy, recorded 14 tackles in his 49ers’ debut — and had a hand in all three of the turnovers Charlotte forced as the 49ers stayed within one score of the nationally-ranked Mountaineers until the final two minutes.  Murray was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. He recovered a fumble forced on the goal line on the Mountaineers’ opening drive, had a redzone INT and forced a fumble himself deep in ASU territory.

Charlotte’s special teams proved special in keeping pace with the Mountaineers: blocking a 34-yard field goal attempt (Damon Weldon Jr), scoring on a 97-yard kickoff return (Aaron McAllister) and kicking a 49-yard field goal (Jonathan Cruz) in sloppy conditions.

Charlotte boasts a slew of playmaking juniors, including QB Chris Reynolds (Maxwell; Manning Watch Lists), WRs Victor Tucker (Biletnikoff Watch List) and Cam Dollar; OL D’Mitri Emmanuel; DE Markees Watts and LB Tyler Murray.

Charlotte’s best-ever recruiting class got an additional bump by the return of three key players for an additional year. Both DE Tyriq Harris, who has been a starter for three seasons, and CB Nafees Lyon, who started each of the last two years, received NCAA waivers to come back for a sixth season. R-Sr. S Ben DeLuca, another three-year starter, took his red-shirt season after playing in two games in 2019 before being injured. Harris and DeLuca are among the 49ers’ four team captains.

R-Jr. QB Chris Reynolds set a school record with 22 passing TDs, put up the second-most passing yards in school history (2,564), led C-USA with a school-record 153.60 passing efficiency and was the 49ers second-leading rusher with 791 yards, the most ever by a 49ers quarterback. He had five games with 200+ passing yards and twice set school FBS records for passing yards (336 v. NT; 354 at UTEP) and total offense (432 v. NT; 445 at UTEP). He had two 100-yard rushing games (high of 145 vs. Marshall) and rushed for 70+ six times, including 90+ in each game during the five-game win streak. He completed 62.2% of his passes (181-291), second only to the school-record (64.9) he set in 2018. He ranked 2nd in C-USA and in the FBS top 15 in yds/att. (8.81, 12th FBS) and yds/comp. (14.17, 13th FBS).

In 2019, Charlotte led C-USA in rushing and ranked in the top four in passing efficiency, TOP, red zone offense and scoring. The 49ers rushed for 200+ eight times and scored 40+ points three times.
Offensive Category    Stat    C-USA rank    FBS rank
Rushing Off.    203.3    1st    30th
Passing efficiency    148.63    2nd    30th
Time of Possession    31:59    3rd    25th
Red Zone Offense    .884    3rd    35th
Scoring Off.    29.8    4th    60th

Of note: The school did have a football team from 1946-48. A two-year institution that operated as a night school at the time, the Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina (CCUNC) was nicknamed the “Owls”. CCUNC was a temporary institution designed to handle the influx of servicemen returning from the war. The school, which would go on to become Charlotte College and eventually UNC Charlotte, became a permanent fixture in 1949 (thus the 49ers nickname).

Charlotte posted the most wins (7) in school history in 2019. Prior to that season, Charlotte had three five-win seasons (2013, 2014, 2018).