The Charlotte 49ers broke a two-game losing streak in rousing fashion Saturday, beating Western Kentucky 40-14 in Conference USA football at Richardson Stadium.
The 49ers (3-3, 2-1 C-USA) lost starting quarterback Chris Reynolds to an ankle injury in the third quarter, but replacement Evan Shirreffs came in and led the 49ers on four consecutive scoring drives to break open a close game.
Charlotte scored 31 unanswered points during one stretch -- including a 21-0 third quarter. The 40 total points were the most the 49ers have scored in Conference USA play, and the 26 points was their largest margin of victory in the league.
Shirreffs, a graduate transfer from Miami who has been injured for much of the season, completed 5-of-7 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. But the 49ers also appeared to rally around him when he wasn’t throwing the ball, as evidenced in a 62-yard touchdown drive during which he handed the ball off to Benny LeMay seven consecutive times (the last of which was a 9-yard touchdown run by LeMay giving Charlotte a 23-7 lead).
“That’s just your job, to be ready at any time,” said Shirreffs. “I was really trying to stay loose on the sidelines, waiting for my shot. I wanted to go out there and give a little juice. All the guys really embraced me, that was great.”
The 49ers had lost two straight lopsided games, both of them on the road. But they remained in control against WKU (1-5, 0-2), converting a turnover on the Hilltoppers’ first possession (an interception by Juwan Foggie) into a 35-yard touchdown run by LeMay on the 49ers’ first offensive play.
Reynolds hurt his ankle after running for a short gain in the third quarter. He had completed 12-of-19 passes for 119 yards to that point.
Lambert said after the game he didn’t know the severity of Reynolds’ injury. But he said that if Reynolds is healthy, he will remain the starter.
Three who mattered
Shirreffs, Charlotte: The 49ers broke the game open after Shirreffs came in on relief of Reynolds. Shirreffs directed the 49ers on three consecutive touchdown drives.
LeMay, Charlotte: 49ers junior running back rushed for 121 yards on 17 carries and scored twice. He carried the ball on seven consecutive plays during one-third quarter drive, capping it with a 9-yard scoring run.
Juwan Foggie, Charlotte: 49ers linebacker was dominant. He had two interceptions, including one on the Hilltoppers’ first possession (leading to a 49ers touchdown). He also sacked Davis Shanley on WKU’s second possession. He finished with eight tackles and also had two quarterback hurries. He has four interceptions this season, and his five career interceptions are second on the 49ers’ all-time list.
▪ Charlotte’s Jonathan Cruz kicked a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter, his seventh consecutive successful attempt of the season. That tied the program record set in 2014 by Blake Brewer. Cruz missed a shot at the record as time expired in the first half when another 33-yarder was wide right. Cruz would make a 51-yarder in the fourth quarter and also had one blocked.
▪ WKU began the game with nine consecutive passing plays (plus a sack), but ended up running the ball 13 times for 44 yards.
▪ The 49ers were helped by three holding calls against the Hilltoppers’ secondary in the first half. Charlotte was able to capitalize on only one of them, however, when it kept alive a drive that ultimately ended with Cruz’s field goal.
▪ Hasaan Klugh, last season’s starter at quarterback for Charlotte, got in one play in the first half. He fumbled on a third-and-1 and the Hilltoppers recovered. Klugh was listed as the backup quarterback for the game, but Lambert went with Shirreffs because of being “gun shy” about Klugh after the fumble.
▪ Charlotte went running-back-by-committee in the first half. LeMay had 67 yards on eight carries, Calvin Camp 17 yards on four carries and Aaron McAllister 6 yards on two carries.
▪ The 49ers travel to Middle Tennessee for a Conference USA game next Saturday; WKU is host to Old Dominion.
▪ On a beautiful autumn afternoon during homecoming weekend, attendance was 11,610 in 15,314-seat Richardson Stadium.
They said it
“Evan (Shirreffs) practices with enthusiasm and energy all week; he didn’t miss a beat when he came in. We trust Evan to make the decisions he needs to.” -- LeMay.
“Just trying to get eight points. It was there. We just didn’t snap it soon enough.” -- Lambert, on the 49ers’ failed two-point conversion attempt after their first touchdown.
“I think there was some quit there in the middle of the fourth quarter and that was momentum. We created that momentum for them and you can’t do that on the road.” -- WKU coach Mike Sanford.
Charlotte 40, W. Kentucky 14
CHA—LeMay 35 run (pass failed), 13:15
WKY—Thomas 4 run (Nuss kick), 3:20
CHA—FG Cruz 33, 4:30
CHA—Shirreffs 1 run (Cruz kick), 9:42
CHA—LeMay 9 run (Cruz kick), 4:20
CHA—McAllister 24 run (Cruz kick), 3:25
CHA—FG Cruz 51, 13:57
CHA—Arnold 28 pass from Shirreffs (Cruz kick), 5:08
WKY—Witchoskey 7 pass from S.Duncan (Nuss kick), 1:55
Time of Possession
RUSHING—W. Kentucky, Samuel 6-29, Thomas 3-10, LaFrance 1-5, Appleberry 2-5, S.Duncan 1-0, Shanley 4-(minus 7). Charlotte, LeMay 17-121, Camp 12-38, McAllister 4-30, Finger 8-29, Arnold 1-3, Klugh 1-1, Reynolds 2-(minus 1), (Team) 2-(minus 5), Shirreffs 3-(minus 5).
PASSING—W. Kentucky, Shanley 20-29-2-154, S.Duncan 7-10-0-60. Charlotte, Reynolds 12-19-0-119, Shirreffs 5-7-0-118.
RECEIVING—W. Kentucky, Sloan 6-83, Fourtenbary 4-21, L.Jackson 4-20, Pearson 3-38, Jernighan 3-11, Leach 2-17, Appleberry 1-8, Witchoskey 1-7, Samuel 1-6, Lane 1-4, Deane 1-(minus 1). Charlotte, Tucker 9-91, Arnold 2-36, LeMay 1-31, McAllister 1-25, Camp 1-19, Kofa 1-15, Quattlebaum 1-14, Tyler 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—W. Kentucky, Rinella 50. Charlotte, Cruz 33, Cruz 32.