College Sports

Can the Charlotte 49ers pull another ‘rabbit out of the hat’ against UAB?

Charlotte 49ers defenders Anthony Butler (left) and Nick Martin (right) bring down Old Dominion running back Jermey Cox in Thursday’s Conference USA opener at Richardson Stadium. Charlotte won 28-25.
Charlotte 49ers defenders Anthony Butler (left) and Nick Martin (right) bring down Old Dominion running back Jermey Cox in Thursday’s Conference USA opener at Richardson Stadium. Charlotte won 28-25.

The 2017 football season was largely devoid of highlights for the Charlotte 49ers. But their game against Ala.-Birmingham did provide one.

On that October afternoon, the 49ers beat the Blazers 25-24 in overtime in front of a homecoming crowd at Richardson Stadium. It was the only victory of the season for Charlotte and a blip for a UAB team that would go on to play in a bowl.

The 49ers won that game when - after trailing 17-7 in the fourth quarter - they converted a two-point conversion on a reverse pass from receiver Chris Montgomery to quarterback Hasaan Klugh.

49ers coach Brad Lambert is certain the Blazers will not have forgotten when the teams play again in a Conference USA game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Birmingham’s Legion Field.

“We’ve got to understand how hard UAB is going to play,” Lambert said. “They thought they had the game won last year. We pulled that rabbit out of the hat there at the end. They’re going to be motivated to play us and our guys have to understand that.”

The 49ers (2-2, 1-0 C-USA) have already doubled that victory total from last season, but are coming off a dispiriting 49-31 loss at Massachusetts in which they trailed 28-0 midway through the first quarter. The Blazers (2-1, 0-0) were off last week. They’ve won eight consecutive home games, one short of a program record.

If the Blazers have used that extra week to plot their revenge from the 2017 game, coach Bill Clark isn’t saying.

“There are always those things to look back at,” Clark said “I guess somebody who would say that is not the case, I just don’t think that is true. As we say in college football, everybody wants to win and every game is important. Every game is a big deal because there are not that many of them. Maybe it is a little extra motivation and maybe that is an off-season thing. We are probably both in the same boat.

“Anytime you come off a loss, it does not get much worse than that. That is how they are feeling now. The only way to fix that is to go and get a win and get the bad taste out of your mouth. Of course, any conference game is a huge game.”

Clark also said the Blazers are well aware that the 49ers beat Old Dominion 28-25 on Sept. 15, a week before the Monarchs stunned the college football world by beating Virginia Tech 49-35.

“You cannot compare scores; I think we all want to compare scores,” Clark said. “(Charlotte) beat a well-coached Old Dominion team and then Old Dominion goes and beats a good Virginia Tech team. I think that should tell our players that last year is an indicator of why we don’t look at scores or records. It will be a good game against a good opponent. To that point, we will be plenty motivated knowing who we are playing against.”

Saturday’s game features C-USA’s top rushing offense (UAB) against the league’s best rushing defense (Charlotte). The 49ers hold opponents to 98.8 yards per game on the ground, while the Blazers pick up 280.0. UAB running back Spencer Brown averages 99.0 yards per game, the top mark in the conference.

The game will also send the 49ers into their bye week. That was the case as well in 2017, after the victory over UAB lifted the 49ers’ record to 1-7 and snapped a 10-game losing streak that had stretched over two seasons. Charlotte was unable to capture any momentum from that, though, going winless through the final five games.

49ers safety Ben DeLuca led the nation last season with five forced fumbles. One of them came in the fourth quarter against UAB and led to a game-tying field goal.

“Last year we beat UAB going into our bye week and that really gave us some momentum,” DeLuca said. “We weren’t able to capitalize on it, but we were able to play better coming out of the bye week. The goal doesn’t change. We want to win every week. And the goal this week is to beat UAB. It’s extremely important for several reasons but going into the bye week as well. That’s something we’re going to try to do.”