The Charlotte 49ers’ inaugural season of FBS football culminated in disappointing fashion with a 27-7 loss on the road against the Rice Owls. The two Conference USA foes battled through a sloppy, scoreless first half before the Owls exploded for three touchdowns as Charlotte’s offense continued to flounder.
“In the second half we just couldn’t make a first down,” said 49ers head coach Brad Lambert.
“Then we had (defensive) penalties on third down. We just didn’t play very good in the third quarter.”
The 49ers (2-10, 0-8 C-USA) had opportunities, but Blake Brewer squandered a series of impressive drives with three missed field goals in the second quarter. Special teams errors have hampered the Niners regularly on their season-ending 10 game losing skid.
Terrence Winchester picked off a pass in the end zone as Charlotte’s defense stifled Rice in the first half. Brooks Barden got the start at quarterback before departing in the second quarter with a shoulder injury.
Matt Johnson stepped in on the ensuing drive and ran the ball effectively alongside Andrew Buie. The 49ers couldn’t convert on two red zone attempts, however, leaving points on the scoreboard before halfrime.
Rice (5-7, 3-5 C-USA) made the necessary adjustments in the locker room during the intermission. The Owls scored on their first five possessions of the second half, including three drives of at least 10 plays and 65 yards in the third quarter. Two critical third-down penalties called against the Niners extended scoring drives, while Brandon Banks and Jalen Holt were each ejected from the game.
Lee McNeill saw the bulk of the action under center in the second half. McNeill’s dink-and-dunk passing attack was efficient — 9-of-11, 53 yards — but ineffective as Charlotte’s first four drives produced 14 plays and 35 yards. The Niners finally cracked the code on their final drive as Johnson hit Trent Bostick over the middle for a 56-yard touchdown.
Charlotte’s defense was gashed on the ground for the second consecutive game. The Owls racked up over 300 yards rushing and two touchdowns as four different backs gained at least 50.
Inside linebackers Nick Cook and Caleb Clayton-Molby combined for 23 tackles in their final game donning the Charlotte green and white. Larry Ogunjobi chipped in with seven stops and now has 152 career tackls — most in program history.
Bostick delivered his best performance this season, fueling an otherwise anemic 49ers offense. The junior wideout hauled in five catches for a season-high 111 yards and his third touchdown reception of the year.
“That’s a good team that went to three straight bowl games,” Lambert added after.
“I think our guys went toe-to-toe with them for a while. We had five or six games this year we had a chance to play with these guys. That was the unknown factor coming in. I think our guys held their own and went toe-to-toe with some good teams.”
Charlotte showed plenty of promise at times throughout the season, but there is plenty of room for improvement in 2016. The 49ers are slated to open next season on the road against the Louisville Cardinals in ACC territory.