The Charlotte 49ers (4-5, 3-2 C-USA) took on the Tennessee University Vols (4-5, 1-3) this past Saturday, Nov. 4 in a 3-14 loss. The Niners hopped on the road and traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee to compete at Neyland Stadium in 58 degree weather. With sunny skies, and over 70,000 fans in attendance, the 49ers would know what to expect walking into this highly anticipated match up for Niner Nation. The leaders for the 49ers Saturday night were star running back, Benny Lemay with 81 rushing yards, QB Evan Shirreffs with 152 passing yards and junior defensive back Ben Deluca with nine tackles.
From the first minute of the first quarter, the Forty-Niners defensive line showed that they would be the deciding factor for this game. The first two quarters allowed Charlotte’s linemen to set the pace for the rest of the game. Able to recognize routes and close off any and every hole in the defense, the 49ers ends and linebackers were able to stifle the Volunteers, holding them to only 20 rushing yards, completely choking the Volunteer’s running game.
The Vols would return an 82-yard punt midway through the first quarter, putting the Vols up seven. Tennesse would see a second touchdown with a short 16-yard reception from Jarrett Guaranto, putting the Vols up even further, 17-0. In response, the 49er defense would buckle down on their opponent’s passing game. Charlotte’s corners and safeties, led by Deluca, played huge coverage on Tennessee’s receivers, and applied pressure that allowed the 49ers to hold them to 192 yards for the entirety of the game. The second quarter of the game would prove to be very similar schematically. The Vols offense, specifically their backs, would continue to struggle heavily against the 49er Linebackers and ends. Defensive end Alex Highsmith, would be a prime example of this through his play on the field.
“We came out, just with an attack mindset. I wanted to come out, just with my helmet on the whole game, and coach put in a great game plan. So, I think we did a good job of executing, but ultimately we didn’t come out with a win, so hats off to Tennessee, they’re a great team,” said Highsmith. “It was fun, playing around this environment, playing around all these people, but you know, we couldn’t let the fans get to us, and we had to lock in.”
Entering into the second half of play, the 49er offense wouldn’t make too much more noise. Creating some strong drives midway through the third and late in the fourth, none of them would be converted into points on the board. The line, would continue to hold the Volunteers effectively for the rest of the night, allowing them no more than 192 yards to finish with.
“You come on the road in a tough environment and play against a good team and do some good things but we don’t play the game to come close,” said head coach Brad Lambert. “I told the guys in the locker room [we] play to come in here and win. There were some situations in there that we could have had an opportunity to win the game and that’s what you want to do.”
The Charlotte 49ers will be traveling to Huntington, Va. this Saturday, Nov. 10 to take on the Marshall Thundering Herd.