College Sports

Mistakes thwart Charlotte 49ers in home loss to Eastern Michigan

Eastern Michigan linebacker Jaylen Pickett, center, continues to fight for yardage after intercepting a pass by Charlotte 49ers quarterback Kevin Olsen during the second quarter Saturday at Richardson Stadium. Pickett had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown.
Eastern Michigan linebacker Jaylen Pickett, center, continues to fight for yardage after intercepting a pass by Charlotte 49ers quarterback Kevin Olsen during the second quarter Saturday at Richardson Stadium. Pickett had two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte 49ers took a big step forward last week, snapping an 11-game losing streak by beating Elon.

They took a step backward Saturday night, struggling in a 37-19 loss to Eastern Michigan at Richardson Stadium.

Although Charlotte (1-2) put up 346 yards total offense and 23 first downs, the 49ers also turned the ball over three times (all of which led to Eagles scores) and didn’t really get things moving consistently until the fourth quarter.

Junior quarterback Todd Porter threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns for Eastern Michigan (2-1), which doubled its win total from last season. The Eagles also got a 5-yard TD run from Ian Eriksen in the first quarter, and three field goals from Paul Fricano (22, 36 and 30 yards).

Freshman running back Robert Washington, filling in for injured starter Kalif Phillips, ran for a career-high 123 yards, the second-most by a Charlotte freshman in program history. But Charlotte starting quarterback Kevin Olsen threw for just 123 yards in three quarters, completing 14 of 28 attempts with two interceptions.

Both picks were by Eastern Michigan linebacker Jaylen Pickett, who returned the second 36 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to put the Eagles up 34-6.

Olsen went out with cramps a minute later and was replaced by Hasaan Klugh.

That seemed to spark Charlotte’s offense, with Klugh – a Central Cabarrus graduate and N.C. A&T transfer – throwing two scoring passes in the fourth quarter.

Klugh hit Independence grad Workpeh Kofa with a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, then found T.L. Ford II on a 28-yarder 4 1/2 minutes later to cut Eastern Michigan’s lead to 34-19.

Three who mattered

Porter: Eastern Michigan’s junior quarterback completed 24 of 31 attempts, with the two TDs and one interception. He finished 2 yards off his career best total.

Pickett: He picked off Olsen twice, with big returns on both. His 20-yard return in the second quarter set up a touchdown for a 17-3 halftime lead, and his 36-yard pick-6 in the third quarter essentially sealed the Eagles’ win.

Washington: The lone bright spot on the 49ers’ offense followed up getting his first two collegiate touchdowns last week with his first career 100-yard rushing game.

Observations

▪ The announced attendance was 15,080, but there were plenty of vacant seats, especially in the Eastern Michigan fans section in the corner of Richarson Stadium. The stands got noticeably emptier after Pickett’s pick-6 in the third quarter.

▪ Pickett’s pick-6 also led to two 49ers players (Austin Duke and Jarred Barr) picking up unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and Larry Ogunjobi getting an unnecessary roughness call on the extra-point kick. That put the ball at the Charlotte 20 for the kickoff.

▪ Penalties were a problem for the 49ers, especially in the second half. Charlotte had three penalties for 21 yards over the first two quarters, but finished with 81 penalty yards (including the three personal foul calls).

▪ While Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said Olsen will remain the starting QB, some consideration might be given to using Klugh more. He finished with 66 passing yards on 9 of 15 attempts and the two TDs, and ran for 16 yards.

▪ Charlotte linebacker Nick Cook, a redshirt senior, picked up his 100th career tackle early in the second quarter. He made it in his 14th career game, the fewest games a 49ers player has needed to reach the 100-tackle mark. He finished with 12 tackles Saturday.

▪ Stephen Muscarello made his two field goals of the 2016 season for Charlotte, of 29 and 25 yards. He missed a 52-yarder to end the first half that had plenty of distance, but went wide right.

Worth mentioning

▪ Charlotte sported black helmets with chrome-green logo, the first time the 49ers have worn them since last year’s season finale at Rice.

▪ Senior linebacker Justin Bridges-Thompson was selected by Lambert to wear the traditional No. 49 jersey for Saturday’s game.

▪ Charlotte had three players sidelined with injuries: Phillips (left hamstring), offensive lineman Jamal Covington (knee) and wide receiver Trent Bostick (concussion).

▪ The 49ers will wrap up their nonconference schedule next Saturday, traveling to Philadelphia to face Temple. Game time is 12 p.m.

They said it

“We’ve got to eliminate the penalties. I was proud at halftime, we only had three and I thought we had that under control. But we did some things in the second half that we just can’t do. We’ve got to get those personal fouls out of our system.” – Lambert.

“That’s what we have as a team – we don’t give up. But when we have penalties and mental mistakes like we did, that takes that all away. As long as we delete those, keep the emphasis on the season and stay focused more on the field, I think we’ll be OK.” – Ford.

“That’s really not something I look to try to get personally; I care more about getting the ‘W.’ We weren’t doing everything right. Whatever my stats were, I made plenty of mistakes tonight, too. It takes all 11 guys. It’s not just one guy.” – Cook.

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