Tom Sorensen

With one gutsy play, the Charlotte 49ers dared to be great – and they were

The Charlotte 49ers and quarterback Hasaan Klugh dared to be great against UAB, and it worked out. Gloriously.
The Charlotte 49ers and quarterback Hasaan Klugh dared to be great against UAB, and it worked out. Gloriously. WWW.MICZEKPHOTO.COM

The Charlotte 49ers had lost 10 straight football games. They had not won since Nov. 5, 2016. When a losing streak reaches double figures, losing is what you do. The streak was the longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Brad Lambert, who was hired in 2011, is Charlotte’s first football coach. He knew before he started he would lose. Going from zero to a big-time schedule as quickly as the 49ers did ensured that he would lose.

But you can’t say it. Lambert can’t meet with players before a game and say, “I respect your hard work. I think you’re laying the groundwork, and because of the work we do now we put ourselves in position to win. We will win someday. But it won’t be today. Now let’s go out there and work hard and not win.”

The 49ers trailed Alabama-Birmingham 17-0 at Richardson Stadium Saturday. This was in the second half. Then they made every play they had to, scored 17 straight points and pushed the game to overtime.

Then they trailed again. The Blazers scored on their first drive of overtime.

The 49ers drove for the tying touchdown, an absolutely clutch big-play drive in front of their fans. They trailed 24-23 and with the extra point would extend the game.

Instead, they went for two.

Everybody wants their team to go for two, no matter who their team is. The courage such a decision requires is almost a victory in itself, and the anticipation is beautiful. Dare to be great.

But if the gamble fails, the coach is destroyed. The 49ers come back from a 17-point second-half deficit and you cheat them out of the opportunity to win? What were you thinking?

Lambert was thinking that he believed, his team believed and he had a play he believed in. This was a play you are most likely to see in slow motion at the end of a football movie.

Quarterback Hasaan Klugh handed the ball to running back Benny LeMay. LeMay tossed the ball to receiver Chris Montgomery, a former quarterback at Burns High. Montgomery looked for Klugh in the end zone.

The more moving parts a play includes the more opportunities it has to fail.

Montgomery, who was pressured, threw to Klugh in the end zone. Klugh, who was open, caught the pass and the 49ers won 25-24.

Sometimes a coach says: No more. We will lose no more. Who’s with me? As it turned out, the 49ers were.

The play was joyous, as was the celebration that followed. It was one bright moment in a season that has otherwise has been a testament to gray.

But if you’re a fan of the 49ers you walked out of Richardson Stadium smiling. And when you think about the play, you still are.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

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