The Charlotte 49ers would send Head Coach Brad Lambert out with a win in his final game as the team beat Lane Kiffen’s Florida Atlantic University on the road 27-24 on Saturday, Nov. 24.
Coach Lambert had been with the team throughout its existence, joining after its inception in 2011. The head coach would go 22-47 in his six-year coaching tenure with the team, with no bowl game appearances. It was an uphill battle for the Niners, as the team that had not won a road game in two years found themselves 17-point underdogs in FAU Stadium.
Although the Niners had no possibility of a bowl game, Kiffen’s Owls had an opportunity if they won. The away team would look to play spoiler in Lambert’s final game with the team, in a close game that would come down to kickers.
The game would start rough for the Niners as FAU scored on the first scrimmage play of the game. Quarterback Chris Robison would shovel-pass to running back Kerrith Whyte, who would score on the 75-yard reverse. Down 7-0, Charlotte would drive down the field on a 10 play, 76-yard drive that would take 4:55 off of the clock and result in a touchdown, when quarterback Hasaan Klugh would throw a 12-yard score to receiver Mark Quattlebaum to end the drive.
FAU punted on the ensuing possession, and Charlotte would score again on a 30-yard field goal by true freshman kicker Jonathan Cruz to make it 10-7. On the other side, a 13 play 65-yard drive would go to waste to start the second quarter, as opposing kicker Vladmir Rivas would miss from 28 yards out. Both teams would fail to score in the next four possessions until the Owls would finally score with 3:29 remaining in the half, putting them up 14-10. Klugh would then throw an interception on his own 29-yard line, allowing FAU to score on a four-yard rush by Robison with .46 to go, putting them down 21-10 to go into the half.
The third quarter would shift the momentum, as the Niners began to dominate the game and the Owls began to fall apart. After going 2/7 in the third-quarter, Kiffen would opt to switch quarterbacks, bringing in De’Andre Johnson in the place of Robison. Meanwhile, the Niners would score twice – once on a Benny LeMay 54-yard scamper and again on a 13-yard touchdown rush by Klugh. Less than a minute into the third quarter, Charlotte would lead 24-21.
Due to the inconsistencies in FAU’s kicker, who was 9/16 on the year and had missed a 30-yard attempt already, Kiffen opted to go for it on 4th & 4 in Charlotte’s territory, with 10:40 remaining in the game. The Niners would hold steady and force the incompletion on the throw. By this point, the Niners’ defense had become inspired, led by defensive end Alex Highsmith. Highsmith would record two tackles for a loss on the drive, and would lead the team with 10 total tackles on the day, with five of them counting as a tackle for a loss in the game; nearly half of his total on the season before the game.
A quick three-and-out for the Niners’ offense would give the ball back to the home team with 8:34 remaining, and this time Rivas would convert the 33-yarder after a 12 play drive, tying the game 24-24. With 3:12 remaining, Charlotte would get the ball back in a last-ditch effort to win the game for Coach Lambert.
After gaining one yard on two plays, the Niners would face a 3rd & 9. But Klugh would convert on a 10-yard pass to Victor Tucker to keep the drive alive. Eight plays and 22 yards later, Cruz would line up to kick the game-winning field goal, which he would convert from 56-yards out, a school record and personal best from the true freshman.
It was a win that signaled the team is headed in the right direction as it ships off its only head coach in its short history. The satisfying victory proved that Charlotte has a bright future ahead of it in football, and is ready to hire a new coach and take the next step.