It’s first down Charlotte and the Niners are refusing to finish this season without breaking records and winning games.
The Charlotte 49ers returned home on Saturday, Oct. 13 for Homecoming to put up the most points and claim the largest win margin in a Conference USA game in program history, beating WKU 40-14.
“It was a total team effort today, from our fan base, our student body, our band, administration and our student-athletes. I told our team in the locker room, ‘That’s what a team is, you represent a university and it takes a lot of people to be successful.’ It was a great atmosphere today and Homecoming, and I’m just really proud of everybody associated with the game; that’s what a team is supposed to look like,” said head coach Brad Lambert. “Our guys came out and played a real clean game, stayed focused, played a clean second half; I thought we ran the ball well against a team I thought was pretty good coming in, ya know, Western Kentucky, they beat up on us pretty good last year, so I thought our guys had real good energy and I thought they prepared extremely hard all week and that’s what it takes.”
Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds left the game injured early in the second half with the score sitting at 9-7 and the 49ers ahead, giving Evan Shirreffs his first opportunity to stake his claim as a Niner in Jerry Richardson Stadium.
“I thought Evan, for his first action, played like he’s been practicing. He’s been into it, he’s preparing hard, so he was ready to go when he went in the game,” said Lambert.
It’s no surprise that Shirreffs’ first pass as a 49er would connect with running back Benny LeMay for 31 yards. Shortly after the connection, RB Aaron McAllister would receive the ball from the QB for 35 yards, Calvin Camp would rush for four and Shirreffs would run the ball one yard for his first career touchdown with Charlotte. This was the first sign of what would be an explosive third quarter for Niner Nation.
“It’s always good just to get out there and get that first completion down and I mean, thankfully, it was a big gain which gave us a little momentum and to this guy [LeMay] on the O line getting out there, knocking some guys down, so it gave us a little momentum,” said Shirreffs.
After a Western Kentucky possession of less than a minute and a half, a pass to wide receiver Workpeh Kofa for 15 yards and 38 rushing yards from LeMay, a nine-yard rushing TD from LeMay and a solid extra point kick from Jonathan Cruz, the Niners would be up 23-7 with 4:20 left on the clock.
Several offensive team members made strides against the Hilltoppers, including Camp rushing for 38 yards, Ishod Finger seeing a lot of action, rushing for 29 yards and McAllister rushing for 20 and gaining a touchdown. LeMay shined as usual, rushing for 121 of 229 rushing yards.
“You try to have competition and depth at each position and I feel like we have that,” said Lambert. “Those guys are all good players, and more importantly, they’re really good people and they want to play well and they want the 49ers to win and that’s a good thing for us.”
WKU would quickly lose their next possession when powerhouse linebacker Juwan Foggie collected his fourth pick of the season on QB Davis Shanley’s first pass of the drive. Foggie has tied for the most interceptions by a Niner in a single season at four and tied the school record for most in a single game at two interceptions and added a team-high eight tackles against the Hilltoppers.
The 49ers used their 48 second possession to add on yet another touchdown thanks to the hands of Shirreffs, the 13 yard rush by WR Rico Arnold and the 14 yard rush into the end zone by McAllister.
The third quarter would end with a score of 30-7 and Charlotte would begin the final quarter with a 51-yard field goal by Cruz, making it his fifth field goal over 40 yards, the most by a freshman and his second over 50 yards.
“That was the challenge at the half; we played really clean in the first half and that was our challenge to them, was to take this next opening drive and see what we can do with it, and I thought the third quarter was extremely energetic and clean,” said Lambert. “We didn’t have penalties, we weren’t making a ton of mistakes and I think the guys were really locked in and when you prepare like that and lock in, you’ve got a chance.
A big pass from Shirreffs to Arnold for 28 yards gave Charlotte their final touchdown. WKU’s final possession led to their second and only other TD of the game, giving them 14 points to Charlotte’s 40.
“That’s just your job, just be ready at any time. I really was staying loose on the sideline, just waiting for my shot you know, and I went out there I just tried to bring a little juice and all of the guys kind of embraced me which was great. I felt like we didn’t really skip a beat at all and it started with the O line and to the backs and the receivers, it was a great second half effort all around,” said Shirreffs.
With over 10 personal and team records either matched or broken, 34 unanswered points and 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, the numbers speak for themselves. The Niners have made major waves so far this season and QB Shirreffs has already made quite a mark.
“Credit to my man, Evan. It’s big, it’s a big win for us. We really worked hard this week, like Coach Lambert said, we focused in on what we had to do,” said LeMay. “He practices with an enthusiasm and energy all week and like he [Shirreffs] said, we didn’t miss a beat.”