Old Dominion’s David Washington hooked up with Zach Pascal twice in the fourth quarter in overcoming a game-long Charlotte lead and handing the 49ers a 37-34 loss Saturday in Conference USA play.
Turnover problems that have plagued Charlotte (2-4, 0-3) all season cropped up again Saturday when Old Dominion’s T.J. Ricks put his helmet onto the football, knocking it from Andrew Buie’s hands on the 49ers’ 16 in the fourth quarter. Three plays later the ball was in Pascal’s hands in the end zone. It was sent there by Washington, who has played receiver the last two years for the Monarchs, who took over the position from Shuler Bentley after the first Old Dominion series.
The two combined again on an 11-yard score with 2:18 to play for the decisive points.
“We’ve got to finish,” said 49ers coach Brad Lambert. “We’ve got to make some plays at the end. We came out and in one play fumble – Boie puts the ball on the ground – and that was as big a play as there was in the game. You’ve got to finish the game off.”
Charlotte had 21 turnovers coming into the game, but had seemed to be dealing with the issue most of the afternoon. The 49ers took a quick lead on Kalif Phillips’ touchdown on their first possession, then made it 14-6 when Buie scored later in the quarter. They held a 24-12 margin at halftime, cut into on Washington’s 33-yard scoring pass to Marques Little – tipped by 49ers defensive back Brandon Zozier.
But each time Old Dominion (3-3, 1-1) asked a question, Phillips seemed to have an answer on a school-record 204-yard rushing day. His running dominated drives to a Blake Brewer field goal and Matt Johnson’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“We had our (offensive line) back healthy, and we felt like our running game would be more effective,” Phillips said.
Not, as it turned out, effective enough.
Three who mattered
▪ Charlotte linebacker Caleb Clayton-Molby forced a fumble by Ray Lawry (recovered by Zach Duncan) on the 49ers 13 when Old Dominion was driving toward a potential first-quarter tie. The 49ers then launched a 12-play drive to Brewer’s 31-yard field goal and a 17-6 lead.
▪ Charlotte quarterback Lee McNeil, who has struggled all season, got the start and found Trent Bostick for 25 yards on the game’s first play. McNeil finished 23 for 33 for 219 yards, with an interception that did not affect the game.
▪ Old Dominion wide receiver Zach Pascal who had 11 catches for 231 yards and three touchdowns.
McNeil provided the artillery, Matt Johnson the infantry in the 49ers two-quarterback scheme. Johnson threw only three times, completing one for eight yards, but ran seven times for 42 yards and a touchdown in short-yardage or red zone situations.
Balanced offense? Charlotte had 309 rushing yards, 227 passing yards, the kind of balance Lambert said he has been seeking all season long.
With Auburn having played Thursday night, Tigers assistant Bobby Bentley finally got a chance to see son Shuler Bentley, a redshirt freshman, play quarterback at Old Dominion. The look was brief though. After playing every offensive down for the Monarchs this season, Bentley was replaced by Washington, a receiver for the past two seasons.
Ray Lawry, who leads the Conference USA in rushing, attended his grandfather Ray Lawry I’s funeral in New Jersey on Thursday. Lawry finished with only 34 yards on seven carries, but fumbled twice and watched freshman Jeremy Cox do most of the heavy lifting.
“It hurts. It hurts us deep, because we thought we had the game. We knew we had the game on (Blake Brewer’s) 20-yard field goal (for a 34-29 lead). We don’t have any excuse, really. We’re 2 ½ years into the program, and we should have no excuses falling short … when we know we should have a game.” - Charlotte RB Kalif Phillips.
“We’re a good team. We’re laying with everyone we’re playing against. There’s been only one game where we got run out of the stadium … We belong here and that’s what I told our team.” – 49er coach Brad Lambert.
“It’s got to be better. My only goal coming into these games is to win. Obviously I didn’t do enough tonight.” – Charlotte QB Lee McNeil after his best game of the season.