The Charlotte 49ers were close Saturday to another first for the four-year-old football program.
Instead, Florida International ended Charlotte’s chance at its first back-to-back Conference USA wins, edging the 49ers 27-26 at Richardson Stadium.
Alex McGough threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns for the Panthers (3-4, 3-0), including a 9-yard scoring pass to Jonnu Smith with 1 minute, 5 seconds remaining to tie the game at 26-26.
FIU kicker Austin Taylor then made the extra-point to put the Panthers up by one. Taylor also hit two field goals for the Panthers, of 21 and 23 yards.
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Charlotte (2-5, 1-2) had a shot at winning, with Hasaan Klugh driving the 49ers into deep field goal range with 10 seconds remaining. Senior Blake Brewer, who has not attempted a field goal this season, missed short on a 49-yard attempt.
Klugh finished with 171 passing yards and one touchdown – a 12-yarder to Workpeh Kofa in the second quarter – as well as 95 rushing yards and a score, a 12-yard run in the third quarter.
Kalif Phillips added 99 rushing yards on 24 carries, freshman Robert Washington had a 3-yard TD run, and Stephen Muscarello hit field goals of 29 and 32 yards for the 49ers, who led 26-13 with 7:12 remaining.
McGough engineered FIU’s comeback with his two TD passes, the first a 15-yarder to A.J. Branisel with 4:21 remaining, the second to Smith to put the Panthers ahead for the first time since midway through the second quarter.
Three who mattered
Klugh: Making his second start of the season, the Concord native kept the 49ers offense moving despite three turnovers.
McGough: With FIU’s rushing game shut down, FIU’s junior quarterback carried the Panthers in the fourth quarter.
Larry Ogunjobi: The 49ers’ all-Conference USA nose tackle had 4½ tackles for a loss, including 1½ sacks, and a team-best 10 tackles.
▪ Turnovers cost Charlotte three scoring opportunities in the first half. Phillips coughed up the ball inside Florida International’s red zone early in the first quarter, and Klugh was stripped midway through the period, setting up the Panthers’ first touchdown. Klugh also threw an interception early in the second quarter.
▪ Florida International wasn’t immune to turnovers, committing two in the first two quarters. Charlotte linebacker Brandon Banks came up with the ball when FIU’s Anthony Jones fumbled on its first play, and 49ers free safety Ben DeLuca picked off a McGough pass in the second quarter.
▪ Charlotte coach Brad Lambert made another noticeable position change, sending out Hayden Pezzoni to handle punting duties instead of Arthur Hart. However, Pezzoni, a redshirt senior from Raleigh, didn’t perform any better, averaging 27.0 yards per punt in the first half.
▪ The announced attendance was 13,939, but the stands at Richardson Stadium appeared less than that – disappointing considering it was the 49ers’ homecoming game.
▪ Redshirt senior Thomas La Bianca, Charlotte’s starting center, was named by Lambert to wear the 49ers’ ceremonial No. 49 jersey for Saturday’s game. La Bianca, a Porter Ridge High graduate, wore the jersey during warmups, then (per NCAA rules) switched back to his No. 74 jersey for the game.
▪ Charlotte will go on the road for its next Conference USA game, playing Marshall next Saturday in Huntington, W.Va. Game time is 5:30 p.m.