The Charlotte 49ers welcomed the Marshall Thundering Herd to Jerry Richardson Stadium for a Halloween matchup that lacked suspense from the beginning. The 49ers dropped their sixth consecutive game, falling 34-10 to the Herd who remain undefeated in Conference USA action.
“Give Marshall credit. They have a really good football team. They came in and made a lot of big plays in the first half,” said 49ers head coach Brad Lambert after the game.
“We didn’t make any long-yardage plays in the first half. We’ve got to keep feeding Kalif (Phillips) more, but I worry about wearing him out. We need to continue to feed him and play off of that.”
The Thundering Herd stormed out of the gates and jumped all over Charlotte early in the game. Marshall’s freshman quarterback Chase Litton targeted 49ers’ cornerback Tank Norman on two deep balls in the first quarter. The first long-ball set up a seven-yard touchdown scamper by backup running back Remi Watson and the second bomb went 66 yards for another score that gave the Herd a 14-0 advantage at the end of the opening 15 minutes.
Marshall (8-1, 5-0 C-USA) continued their offensive onslaught with back-to-back touchdowns on their first two drives of the second quarter as well. The Herd marched the ball 97 yards on nine plays for the second time of the afternoon and capped the drive with a 17-yard strike from Litton to tight end Ryan Yurachek in the back-corner of the end zone.
The Herd then pieced together another lengthy drive — nine plays, 84 yards — on the ensuing possession and took a commanding 28-0 lead on a touchdown run by redshirt freshman Keion Davis. Davis slipped a tackle from Charlotte’s Caleb Clayton-Molby in the backfield and then walked into the end zone from six yards out for the score.
The 49ers (2-6, 0-5 C-USA) moved the ball well throughout the first half, but couldn’t make the necessary plays in Marshall territory to light up the scoreboard. Charlotte’s best possession of the half — 14 plays, 59 yards — stalled inside the 20 yard-line and resulted in only three points after a 34-yard Blake Brewer field goal.
Marshall tacked on a 32-yard Nick Smith field goal with one minute remaining in the second quarter and coasted to 31-3 advantage as the two sides retreated to the locker room at halftime. The 49ers’ defense proved unable to get off the field in crucial situations, allowing the Herd to convert 4-of-8 third down attempts and an additional two fourth down conversions. Marshall finished the opening half with over 400 yards of total offense, including 333 yards through the air against a Charlotte secondary that has been stingy at times this season.
The Herd continued to dominate the football throughout the third quarter, but Smith failed to convert back-to-back field goals following two drives of eight and 12 plays respectively. Smith had been a perfect 12-of-12 to start his collegiate career before missing from 37 and 36 yards out.
The 49ers failed to take advantage of Marshall’s missed opportunities in the quarter as two punts and an Austin Duke fumble was all the offense could muster. Duke reeled in the bubble screen and made a sweet move on the defensive back in the backfield before fumbling on the chase-down tackle.
Marshall continued to shoot themselves in the foot in the fourth quarter when a third Litton touchdown toss was negated by an illegal hands to the face penalty. The Herd trotted Smith back on to the field and the sophomore kicker atoned for his earlier two misses by splitting the uprights on a 39-yard boot.
Charlotte showed tremendous grit and continued to battle throughout the fourth quarter despite facing an insurmountable deficit. The Niners pieced together their second 14-play drive of the afternoon and finished the job this time with a six-yard burst up the middle by Kalif Phillips. Phillips hit a career milestone on the possession, surpassing 3,000 career rushing yards earlier in the drive.
Quarterback play was the deciding factor yet again for Charlotte. Lee McNeill completed 17-of-32 passing attempts, but only managed 20 yards through the air in the second half. The redshirt junior signal caller threw an interception on the 49ers’ first offensive play of the fourth quarter, pushing his season total to 10. McNeill still hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass this season and Charlotte hasn’t recorded a passing score since September 12 against Presbyterian.
On the other side of the ball Litton posted a career-best 486 yards on 33 completions, including his two first half touchdown strikes. Marshall wideout Davonte Allen caught 12 balls for 232 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
“We just didn’t make any plays,” said Charlotte linebacker Karrington King when asked about the defensive performance.
“Like coach said we can’t give them any gifts and when it comes down to it they made more big plays than we did.”
The 49ers continue the search for their first conference victory when they battle the FIU Panthers on the road in Miami next weekend. Kickoff for that contest is scheduled for noon.