College Sports

Charlotte 49ers fail to finish, fall to Rice after leading by 21

Charlotte 49ers running back Kalif Phillips scores his team’s first touchdown on a 14-yard run in Saturday’s Conference USA football game against Rice.
Charlotte 49ers running back Kalif Phillips scores his team’s first touchdown on a 14-yard run in Saturday’s Conference USA football game against Rice. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Throughout the second half, Rice quarterback Tyler Stehling had tormented the Charlotte defense, picking it apart bit by bit with each carry and throw.

So with the clock winding down on Saturday evening at Richardson Stadium, it was no surprise that the Owls turned to Stehling one last time to deliver the final blow. He didn’t miss.

The quarterback methodically drove the Rice offense down the field, and seconds after rushing for a first down on a 4th-and-1 play, he plunged into the end zone from one yard out for what proved to be the decisive score in the 49ers’ 22-21 loss.

“We just couldn’t get him corralled in the backfield,” Charlotte coach Brad Lambert. “… The disappointing thing for me was we had him in the backfield and then didn’t finish him.”

Similarly, the 49ers (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) couldn’t finish off the Owls (2-8, 1-6). Charlotte defensive back Terrance Winchester returned an interception for a touchdown midway through the second quarter, capping a 21-0 run to open the game.

But the pick-six accounted for the 49ers’ final points. Rice scored 22 unanswered, depriving Charlotte of its first-ever C-USA home victory and making the 49ers’ final two games must-wins if they hope to become bowl eligible.

Three who mattered

Stehling: The Owls’ quarterback rushed for 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while also going for 279 yards and a score through the air.

Winchester: The redshirt senior’s pick-six was the first of his career and the sixth in program history.

Kalif Phillips: The 49ers’ halfback rushed for 87 yards and added 29 receiving yards, giving him 100-plus yards from scrimmage for the seventh straight game.

Observations

▪  Starting right guard Nate Davis left the game with a toe injury midway through the first half and never returned. With Jamal Covington (back) and Eugene German (broken arm) also sidelined, Rice’s defensive line wreaked havoc against Charlotte’s offensive line after Davis’ exit.

The 49ers registered 153 total yards on 23 plays in the first quarter. The offense managed just 110 total yards on 40 plays the rest of the way.

Worth mentioning

▪  The 49ers held Military Appreciation Day on Saturday. Events included a Game Ball Marathon Relay from the Veteran’s Memorial in Cornelius to campus, a flyover by the 145th Air National Guard and an on-field presentation to honor WWII and Korean War veterans.

▪  With nine tackles on Saturday, redshirt senior linebacker Nick Cook set a Charlotte single-season record for tackles with 90. The previous record was held by Branden Dozier, who made 86 tackles in 2014.

They said it

“We had a chance to win the game, and we didn’t win it. We didn’t win it on defense down the stretch, and we didn’t help ourselves by scoring zero points in the second half. No question it hurts.” – Lambert on the disappointment following the loss.

“We’ve got to take our individual groups and work on the small things, the things that tend to go over into the game that really hurt us. I feel like now we have two games, and it’s win or go home. So each group needs to tighten down so we can come together and be a better team.” – Winchester on how the team needs to approach the next two weeks.

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