The Charlotte 49ers committed eight mistakes and lost before a record home crowd, but there was a sense of relief after the team’s 17-7 setback Saturday night to Florida Atlantic.
The loss, in the 49ers’ first night and Conference USA game at home, came a week after the 49ers surrendered 73 points at Middle Tennessee.
This time, the defense allowed Florida Atlantic fewer than 200 yards total offense, and the Owls’ two touchdowns and field goal followed 49er miscues.
“There was an overwhelming feeling of relief,” said Charlotte safety Tank Norman, who returned an interception 28 yards early in the fourth quarter for the 49ers’ only score. “Middle Tennessee put a bad feeling out there for us. We wanted to show a lot of improvement.”
“No, we didn’t play well last week, but they showed a lot tonight,” coach Brad Lambert said.
Ten of Florida Atlantic’s 73 offensive plays ended with negative yardage. Four of Larry Ogunjobi’s career-best 11 tackles were for losses.
“We worked hard in practice this week,” Ogunjobi said. “I think people got the wrong impression of us after the Middle Tennessee game. We are capable of doing much better.”
The 49ers, now 2-2, held Georgia State’s offense in check for most of the way in Charlotte’s season-opening 23-20 victory and limited Presbyterian to less than 170 yards offense in the second-week 34-10 triumph.
The problem against Florida Atlantic was Charlotte’s offense.
Quarterback Lee McNeill had four passes picked off. Matt Johnson, who alternated with McNeill, threw two interceptions. The 49ers also lost a fumble and had a muffed snap on a punt that led to Florida Atlantic’s first touchdown.
Lambert called the quarterback play “not very good.”
“We’ve got to get better,” he said.
Lambert said some of the problems were related to the game-long rain, which might have been a factor in Florida Atlantic’s eight fumbles.
“But we’ve got to value the football better,” he said.
Brooks Barden, who started at quarterback against Presbyterian and Middle Tennessee, sat out the Florida Atlantic game with an injury.
Still, the team took relief in knowing they were losing only 10-7 and driving in Owls’ territory in the closing minutes. An intercepted pass ended that threat.
“I thought we played hard in this game,” Norman said.
Lambert said the crowd of 17,444 helped create an “electric atmosphere.”
The 49ers might need more of that in their next game, at 7 p.m. Friday at Jerry Richardson Stadium. Their opponent is unbeaten Temple (3-0), which counts Penn State and Cincinnati among its victims this season.