Florida International put an end to the Charlotte 49ers’ hopes of becoming bowl eligible Saturday with a 42-35 victory against the 49ers at Richardson Stadium.
It was the third consecutive loss for the 49ers (4-7, 3-4 Conference USA), who had hoped to reach the six-victory mark for the first time in the program’s four-year history in the Football Bowl Subdivision. FIU (8-3, 6-1) can clinch C-USA’s East Division title with a victory next week against Marshall.
The teams combined for 1,024 yards in total offense - Charlotte 534, FIU 490.
Hasaan Klugh, Charlotte’s starting quarterback in 2017 who has seen limited action this season, got the start over junior Evan Shirreffs, who had been relatively ineffective in recent games. Klugh, who completed 16-of-22 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown, helped keep the 49ers in the game until the Panthers recovered an onside kick after Charlotte had narrowed FIU’s lead to seven points wth 1 minute, 14 seconds left.
49ers coach Brad Lambert said he made the decision to start Klugh last Sunday, the day after a 30-13 loss at Marshall.
“(Klugh) has done a lot of good things for this place, the way he represents this program,” Lambert said. “Watching him practice (last week), he practiced out of his mind. Nothing surprised me today. Practice good, play good.”
With Klugh and junior running back Benny LeMay (159 yards, four touchdowns) providing the offensive spark, the 49ers never let the Panthers’ lead exceed two touchdowns. The 49ers scored first when LeMay scored the 49ers’ first touchdown on a 9-yard run with 12 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the first quarter. After holding the Panthers to a 25-yard field goal by Jose Boregalles, Charlotte appeared to be driving again on its next possession.
But running back Ishod Finger fumbled and the ball was picked up by FIU’s Sage Lewis, who returned it 61 yards for a touchdown.
Another field goal by Boregalles, this one from 28 yards, gave the Panthers a 13-7 lead with 12:03 left in the first half.
The 49ers responded with a 1-yard touchown dive by LeMay, giving them a 14-13 lead. The big play of the drive was a 67-yard pass from Klugh to Tucker, giving Charlotte a first-and-goal from the 8.
FIU was able to take a 20-14 halftime lead when Napolean Maxwell broke free down the right side for a 39-yard touchdown run with 3:38 left in the second quarter.
The Panthers scored early in the second half on a 6-yard shovel pass from Morgan to Anthony Jones, making it 27-14. The 49ers answered later in the quarter on LeMay’s third touchdown, a 1-yard run that cut the lead to 27-21.
Three who mattered
LeMay, Charlotte: Rushed for 159 yards and four touchdowns. He has l,055 yards for the season. He had 202 all-purpose yards, the second time this season he’s gone over 200 yards.
Klugh, Charlotte: 49ers quarterback, getting his first start of the season, accounted for 301 yards of total offense (253 passing, 48 rushing).
James Morgan, FIU: Panthers quarterback, the C-USA leader in pass efficiency entering the game, was 24-of-31 for 268 yards and two touchdowns.
▪ Finger was hurt on the play in which he fumbled. He left the game with an ankle injury, but Lambert expects he will be able to play next week at Florida Atlantic.
▪ The 49ers entered the game fourth nationally and leading C-USA in rushing defense (88.5 yards per game). The Panthers rushed for 196 yards, most this season against the 49ers. FIU’s 490 total yards were also a season-high against Charlotte.
▪ Charlotte’s 534 yards in total offense was a season high.
▪ LeMay’s four touchdowns tied a single-game record (receiver Austin Duke in 2014) and set a single-game touchdown rushing record for the program.
▪ The 49ers were penalized 15 yards when Klugh horse-collar tackled Lewis on his fumble-recovery touchdown. Kicking off from the 50, FIU’s Boregalles didn’t kick the ball out of the end zone (as he easily could have). Instead, Boregalles popped up his kick to the 8, where the 49ers’ Aaron McAllister was tackled.
▪ Aubrey Hill, Tucker’s high school coach at Carol City (Fla.) High, is FIU’s wide receivers coach.
▪ The 49ers finish their regular season next week at Florida Atlantic; the Panthers can clinch the East Division title with a victory at home against Marshall.
They said it
“No matter how you shake it up, it’s always a tough locker room when you’ve got to look the seniors in the eye when you didn’t go where you wanted to go.” -- Lambert.
“I took the opportunity (to start). I was thankful for for opportunity and it was a wonderful experience.” -- Klugh.
FIU 42, Charlotte 35
CHA—LeMay 9 run (Cruz kick), 12:49
FIU—FG Borregales 25, 8:49
FIU—Lewis 61 fumble return (Borregales kick), 5:33
FIU—FG Borregales 28, 12:03
CHA—LeMay 1 run (Cruz kick), 9:37
FIU—Maxwell 39 run (Borregales kick), 3:38
FIU—A.Jones 6 pass from Morgan (Borregales kick), 12:54
CHA—LeMay 1 run (Cruz kick), 9:37
FIU—A.Jones 3 pass from Morgan (Gaiter pass from Morgan), 14:56
CHA—LeMay 6 run (Cruz kick), 9:33
FIU—Maxwell 52 run (Borregales kick), 7:04
CHA—C.Phillips 12 pass from Klugh (Cruz kick), 1:14
Time of Possession
RUSHING—FIU, Maxwell 7-102, A.Jones 11-72, Price 5-22. Charlotte, LeMay 30-159, McAllister 12-73, Klugh 13-48, Finger 2-1.
PASSING—FIU, M.Alexander 1-1-0-26, Morgan 24-31-0-268. Charlotte, Klugh 16-22-1-253.
RECEIVING—FIU, M.Alexander 5-36, Thornton 4-61, Singleton 4-38, Maloney 3-107, Palmer 2-23, Worton 2-12, A.Jones 2-9, Scott 1-6, Price 1-1, Maxwell 1-1. Charlotte, Tucker 4-115, Kofa 4-37, LeMay 3-43, C.Phillips 2-29, Arnold 1-11, Tyler 1-9, Ringwood 1-9.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.