Fourth quarter comeback not enough to topple Blue Raiders
The Charlotte 49ers fell behind early, and their 18-point second half comeback came up just short as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders beat the Niners on Senior Day 38-31. Charlotte outscored MTSU 25-14 in the second half, but it wasn’t enough as the Blue Raiders escaped Jerry Richardson Stadium with a victory.
MTSU got the ball rolling early, as redshirt freshman quarterback John Urzua fired two touchdown passes less than five minutes apart. The first was a 5-yard pass to Ty Lee, and the second was a 7-yarder to Richie James. Just like that, the Blue Raiders were up two touchdowns, while the Niners had had two consecutive three-and-outs. Charlotte had a chance to get on the board, but kicker Blake Brewer’s successful 42-yard field goal was negated by a penalty. His next try, a 57-yarder, was blocked, and MTSU recovered the ball with good field position.
In the second quarter, Charlotte finally got on the board when quarterback Hasaan Klugh ran in a 16-yard score, his sixth rushing touchdown of the season. However, on the ensuing kickoff, MTSU returned it all the way to the house before having the score nullified for a holding penalty. Charlotte linebacker Nick Cook intercepted Urzua’s pass, but the Niners were unable to capitalize on the momentum.
Upon getting the ball back, Urzua drove the MTSU offense up the field in seven plays and capped off the drive with a 6-yard pass to Patrick Smith. The score came at the 8:39 mark of the second frame and gave MTSU a 21-6 lead. The teams went back and forth with no action until the Blue Raiders finally knocked in a 41-yard field goal with 18 ticks remaining in the half. The field goal increased MTSU’s advantage to 24-6.
However, Charlotte came out of the locker room with purpose. Klugh found Austin Duke downfield for a touchdown that was nullifed for another penalty. Not to be denied, Klugh drove the Niners down the field and scored on a 4-yard run that cut the deficit to 24-13. MTSU continued to pound away on the ground, and Urzua found Smith in the end zone again for their second hookup of the game. That score put MTSU up 31-13 with 4:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Toward the tail end of the third, running back Kalif Phillips recorded an 11-yard rush, which put him over the 4,000 mark for his career. Soonafter, Brewer knocked in another field goal, this time from 38 yards out.
“It means a lot to me to put that down in history,” Phillips said about his 4,000 career rushing yards. “I’m very grateful to be here and will always be a Niner.”
The fourth quarter gave Charlotte all the momentum, and they kept making big plays. First, Klugh scored his third rushing touchdown at the 8:18 mark, cutting the Raider lead to 31-23. After MTSU went three-and-out, Klugh found receiver Austin Duke downfield on a 55-yard pass play that put the Niners in the redzone. The Niners were denied on fourth and goal, but three plays later, Daquan Lucas intercepted Urzua’s pass out of the end zone.
Klugh fired an 8-yard touchdown pass to Workpe Kofa, and then Duke found Klugh on a trick play for a successful tow point conversion that tied that game at 31, all with 4:53 left. Both teams had three-and-outs, but MTSU’s Ty Lee broke through the defense and scored on a backbreaking 61-yard touchdown scamper with only 1:12 remaining. Charlotte tried to move up the field but eventually turned the ball over on downs.
Klugh finished the game 22-49 for 239 yards and four total touchdowns. He also rushed 16 times for 68 yards, while Phillips rushed 14 times for 67 yards. Phillips also tallied four receptions for 23 yards; Austin Duke caught eight passes for 112 yards and Kofa caught four passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, Karrington King had 11 total tackles; Daquan Lucas had nine and an interception and Ben DeLuca and Cook both added eight apiece. Cook also picked off a pass.
“That’s the one thing our guys were talking about downstairs is we want to win at home for our fans,” Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert said afterwards. “So that’s a little frustrating, to not finish the deal. Three games here, we had chances to win all three of them… But our guys are showing progress, I’m really proud of them fighting back. We have a lot to play for next week to end up .500 in our league, so we’ll lean hard on our seniors this week to make sure we’re ready to play when we go to San Antonio.”
Charlotte will play its final regular season game next Saturday when it travels to UTSA and will look to finish .500 in league play. The game will kick off at 7 p.m.