Charlotte 49ers football coach Brad Lambert is glad his team’s bye week came when it did.
Having last week off allowed the 49ers to heal up after opening the season with games over eight consecutive weeks. It also allowed them to reflect with satisfaction on the final game of that stretch, a 25-24 overtime victory against Ala.-Birmingham – the 49ers’ first victory of the season. It broke an overall 10-game losing streak that reached into 2016 and was the longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
It’s gone now.
“It’s always good after a win,” said Lambert, whose team plays at Old Dominion on Saturday in a Conference USA game. “We needed that shot in the arm.”
The losing streak, naturally, had long been a drag on the often-overmatched 49ers (1-7, 1-3), who are in their third season in C-USA and the FBS. But then came the victory against UAB, during which the 49ers trailed 17-0 in the second half and featured a flea-flicker two-point conversion for the winning margin.
“Obviously, the win definitely did something for our team,” said sophomore linebacker Jeff Gemmell. “Not having a win up to that point, it kind of played a role in our attitude as the weeks went on. We knew we were a good enough team to win, but the cards didn’t fall our way. But getting that win will be (great) for us.”
The 49ers came together in the second half against UAB, not allowing the Blazers to score on their final six possessions of regulation. Offensively, quarterback Hasaan Klugh turned in several big plays, including a 68-yard touchdown pass to Trent Bostick that trimmed the UAB lead to 17-14, a key fourth-down conversion in overtime, then the winning catch on the two-point conversion, which he grabbed from receiver Chris Montgomery after a double-reverse.
“Each week, we’re talking to the team hard about that moment, when in the fourth quarter those plays mean so much,” Lambert said. “When the game is on the line, you’ve got to slow yourself and focus on the moment. We’ve been talking about that for the last month and a half. It’s great for it to show some success.”
Success meant a victory for the 49ers, finally.
“We’re just getting that taste of it,” said junior offensive guard Nate Davis. “It was huge. Everything’s possible now.”
Lambert said the week off meant several players will be healthy for ODU, including cornerbacks Anthony Covington and Marquavis Gibbs, offensive guard Chris Brown and receiver Workpeh Kofa. Cornerback Denzel Irvin broke a finger against UAB and won’t play.
The 49ers average 191.1 yards rushing, which ranks fourth in C-USA. That average goes up to 224.8 yards in league play, second best behind Florida Atlantic’s 380.0.
Klugh had a career-high 140 rushing yards against UAB.
“We’re going to have to handle their quarterback,” ODU coach Bobby Wilder said of Klugh. “They’ve got an outstanding quarterback, he’s athletic, he runs the ball, he throws the ball.”
▪ The Monarchs (2-6, 0-4) have lost six in a row, including a 45-38 defeat at North Texas last Saturday. But ODU has one of the league’s top running backs in Jeremy Cox, who has rushed for 597 yards and four touchdowns, including 109 yards and a score against North Texas. Quarterback Steven Williams is a true freshman and threw for a career-high 181 yards against the Mean Green.
▪ The Monarchs’ Isaiah Harper returned two kickoffs for touchdowns (97 and 98 yards) against North Texas. He had a total of 235 kick return yards in the game, most this season in FBS.
▪ The Monarchs began their football program in 2009, four years before the 49ers started theirs in 2013. The 49ers have learned what they could from ODU’s experience as a start-up. A group from Charlotte’s athletics department went to an ODU home game in 2011 to observe game-day operations. Lambert also said he learned from Wilder how to manage his roster numbers when recruiting his first few classes to Charlotte.
On the field, the Monarchs have won the teams’ first two meetings, including a 52-17 decision last season in Charlotte.
David Scott: @davidscott14