Charlotte’s Second Half Surge Carries 49ers Past UTEP, 38-28, In Home Opener

The Charlotte 49ers take on the James Madison Dukes at Jerry Richardson Stadium.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte (2-2; C-USA: 2-1) scored 24 straight points to pull away for a 38-28 Conference USA victory over visiting UTEP (3-3: C-USA: 0-2), Saturday in the 49ers home opener at Jerry Richardson Stadium.

Charlotte trailed 14-7 midway through the second quarter before tying the score just before the half and then rattling off the first 17 points of the second half to take a 31-14 lead with under five minutes to play.

“The turnovers were the difference,” said 49ers head coach Will Healy.

Two of the 49ers first three touchdowns came directly from turnovers as Charlotte took a 21-14 lead into the fourth quarter. After a field goal to start the final frame, R-Sr. defensive end Tyriq Harris sacked UTEP QB Gavin Hardison on fourth down to set up yet another scoring drive that put the 49ers ahead, 31-14.

UTEP answered with a seven-play 59-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 31-21, but Charlotte recovered the onside kick and Aaron McAllister took the next snap 36 yards for Charlotte’s final score.

“When they give us prime field position like the defensive did a couple times, we’ve got to capitalize – which I thought we did later. I didn’t think we did earlier in the game,” Healy noted.

Charlotte scored first for the 4th straight game after linebacker Tyler Murray intercepted Hardison and returned it to the seven-yard line, setting up Aaron McAllister’s first score of the game.

UTEP scored 14 straight points after the 49ers opening score to take a 14-7 lead with 5:35 left in the half. The 49ers answered just before the half when QB Chris Reynolds found Victor Tucker for a 22-yard touchdown strike.  It was Tucker’s 10th career touchdown reception – to become the fourth 49er to reach double figures in TD catches and tie TL Ford for 3rd all-time.

Charlotte took control in the second half, scoring the first 17 points to distance itself from the Miners.  R-Sr. S Ben DeLuca forced his school-record ninth career fumble, which CB Lance McAllister recovered at the UTEP 37-yard line, setting up a scrambling 10-yard touchdown pass from Reynolds to roommate Cam Dollar. A 32-yard field goal from Jonathan Cruz and a Micaleous Elder 13-yard TD run following Harris’s fourth-down sack, pushed the 49ers ahead 31-14.

Charlotte put up 226 yards of offense in the second half (UTEP, 188) and enjoyed a time of possession of over 18:09 minutes compared to UTEP’s 11:51.

Ben DeLuca became just the second player in 49ers’ history to record 300 career tackles. DeLuca led the 49ers with nine tackles and added the forced fumble. His nine tackles give him 300 in his career, six shy of the school record of 306, set by Jeff Gemmell, last year.

UTEP put up 374 yards of total offense to the 49ers 329. Charlotte QB Chris Reynolds was 14-of-23 for 185 yards and two TDs. Victor Tucker led the receiving corps with six catches and 86 yards, including one TD. Reynolds connected with seven different receivers – the fourth straight game he has thrown a pass to at least six receivers. Hardison was 19-of-35 for 204 yards with two TD passes and two INTs for UTEP.

Charlotte ran for 144 yards, with Aaron McAllister leading the charge with 68 yards and two touchdowns. Deion Rankins led the Miners with 119 rushing yards and a touchdown.

Charlotte forced three turnovers for the second time this year (3 at Appalachian State).  Tyler Murray and Lance McMillan both recorded interceptions while McMillan recovered a fumble forced by Ben DeLuca. McMillan’s INT was the first of his career while Murray’s was his second of the season.

The 49ers step out of conference play to travel to the ACC’s Duke, Saturday, Oct. 31 at 7 p.m.