There would be no fourth-quarter comeback magic for the Charlotte 49ers this time.
One week after completing an unlikely comeback against Gardner-Webb, the Charlotte 49ers fell 45-22 to Division II’s UNC Pembroke Saturday before a sold-out homecoming crowd of 16,630 at Richardson Stadium.
This wasn’t some run-of-the-mill team from a lower classification that the Football Championship Subdivision’s 49ers (4-3) were playing. The Braves (5-0) – in just their seventh season of having a football program – entered the game ranked 14th nationally and already had a victory against Division II-power Winston-Salem State to their credit.
Coming off that 53-51 victory against Gardner-Webb – in which Charlotte overcame a 21-point deficit – the 49ers were unable to deal with a UNC Pembroke team that featured razor-sharp senior quarterback Luke Charles and a stingy defense that forced four turnovers.
“They were what I thought they’d be coming in,” said 49ers coach Brad Lambert, whose start-up team has 14 freshmen in the starting lineup. “They were (experienced) and handled themselves well. They outplayed us today.”
Behind Charles, one of 14 senior starters and UNC Pembroke’s career passing leader, the Braves carved up Charlotte’s defense, rolling up 503 yards in total offense.
Charles completed 43 of 57 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Many of those passes came underneath Charlotte’s coverage. And when the 49ers began to bite on those short routes, Charles complied by burning them with longer passes, including a 56-yarder for a touchdown to Te’vell Williams in the third quarter.
“They gave up a lot of stuff underneath,” said Charles. “All we did was take advantage of that. When they started getting tired of that, that’s when we took our deep shots and we connected.”
With Charles keeping the 49ers on their heels with his quick-hitting passes, the Braves took a 21-8 lead at halftime.
“We dropped eight (into coverage), which is what you do against a short-throwing team,” said Lambert. “But that eliminates pressure (on the quarterback). So, do you drop or bring (pressure)? Then you give up the big play in the second half.”
The 49ers actually had a brief lead in the first quarter after quarterback Matt Johnson hit Mikel Hunter on a 2-yard scoring pass. Faking the point-after kick, holder Lee McNeill ran in a two-point conversion and Charlotte was up 8-7 with 8 minutes, 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
But UNC Pembroke responded with 31 consecutive points. And by the time the 49ers scored again – on a 4-yard pass from Johnson to H back C.J. Crawford – it was too late, even for a Charlotte team that scored 29 consecutive points to beat Gardner-Webb the week before.
“We had a good week of preparation,” said Lambert. “But like I tell the guys, humble pie is only seven days away. I tried to warn them.”
Charlotte, which entered the game leading FCS with 22 takeaways, had just one interception against the Braves. And a week after playing a turnover-free game against Gardner-Webb, Charlotte coughed the ball up four times against UNC Pembroke.
“They were really fundamentally sound and a really resilient defense,” said Johnson, who was 25 of 40 for 278 yards and three touchdowns. “But if one thing could go wrong for us, it would go wrong. We had a hard time moving the chains. We couldn’t get our tempo going to get them tired. They were able to (substitute) a lot, so we couldn’t gash them.”
It was also second consecutive game the 49ers’ defense had allowed 500-plus yards (Gardner-Webb had 577).
“They hit us quickly with those quick passes,” said 49ers safety Desmond Cooper. “We knew it was coming, but they just came out and did it.”
That was the Braves’ plan.
“Even though they're a first-year program, they have a lot of D-1 players that can play at the D-1 level,” said UNC Pembroke’s Williams of the 49ers. “This game was really to prove how good we really are and that we can play with anybody in the country.”
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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