The Charlotte 49ers football team (4-2) hosted 24th-ranked Gardner-Webb (4-2) at home inside Jerry Richardson Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 5. The student section was obviously missing many fans as it appeared most students chose to leave town for fall break.
If those fans that left watched the game on TV or followed along on Twitter, one can imagine that they were disappointed after missing an almost unbelievable comeback to beat a nationally ranked program at home.
In the opening drive of the game, the 49ers were unable to do much after Mikel Hunter’s 27-yard kickoff return, forcing Brandon Strupp to punt.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs drove the ball down the field in their first drive of the game. On a third and goal from the 5-yard line, quarterback Lucas Beatty was unable to find a receiver in the endzone, forcing GWU to settle for a field goal with 8:36 to play in the first quarter.
The second drive of the game for the 49ers looked similar to the first: another three and out.
GWU marched the ball down the field almost effortlessly, converting two third-down conversions to keep possession of the ball. It was Beatty’s 3-yard pass to Kenny Cook that gave the Runnin’ Bulldogs the first touchdown of the day. With the 49ers trailing 10-0 with 4:09 to play in the first quarter, the pressure was on for the young Charlotte team.
During the third drive of the game, the 49ers finally found their rhythm. After four consecutive first downs on a six play, 73-yard drive, Kalif Phillips found himself in the endzone on a six-yard run for the first 49ers score of the day.
The GWU offense answered back with a touchdown on a 20-yard pass from Beatty to Cook, giving the Runnin’ Bulldogs a 17-7 lead over the 49ers to wrap up the first quarter.
Charlotte opened up the second quarter with a first down on a 5-yard run by Phillips. Johnson finds Austin Duke on a 24-yard pass. Johnson then found CJ Crawford on a 17-yard pass to give the 49ers their second touchdown of the game after driving the ball 67 yards. The touchdown was Crawford’s first of the season.
Cook proved early on that he was a dangerous weapon for the GWU offense as he received for more than 100 yards before the halfway mark in the second quarter. Beatty found Earnest Harmon on a 3-yard pass for a GWU touchdown, giving the Runnin’ Bulldogs a 24-14 lead over the 49ers with 9:55 to play in the first half.
The GWU offense fumbled the ball and Caleb Clayton-Molby recovered it, returning possession to the 49ers. That was Clayton-Molby’s third fumble recovery of the season and the 49ers’ 11th this year. Unable to convert a third down, Blake Brewer kicked a 43-yard field goal to cut the GWU lead 24-17. That kick was Brewer’s longest field goal of the season.
49ers took back possession when the GWU offense ran out of downs and Jordan Day missed a 39-yard field goal. On a third and 10, Johnson found Trent Bostick to pick up a first down. Johnson connected with Duke for a 26-yard pass to tie the game 24-24, with just 0:14 to play in the first half. The touchdown was Duke’s fifth of the season.
After the first half of the game, the 49ers were three of seven on third-down conversions to the GWU six of eight. Going into the game, the 49ers were 41.3 percent successful on third-down conversions.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs started the second half of the game with possession. After driving the ball 75 yards in 12 plays, Beatty found Harmon in the endzone for another GWU touchdown to give them a 31-24 lead over the 49ers. That was Harmon’s second touchdown of the game and Beatty’s fourth touchdown pass of the game, tying his career high.
The 49ers drove the ball down the field, but were unsuccessful in scoring, forcing Brewer to attempt a 48-yard field goal. Drew White blocked the kick and Demarji Devine returned it to the Charlotte 2-yard line. It was Juanne Blount that ran it in for a GWU touchdown, giving the Runnin’ Bulldogs a 38-24 lead with 8:31 to play in the third quarter.
The 49ers ran out of downs, driving the ball into GWU territory and on a fourth and five, an incomplete pass by Johnson to Crawford returned the ball to the Runnin’ Bulldogs with 6:27 to play in the third quarter.
Throwing the 49ers defense off, Mike Estes picked up his first receiving touchdown of the season when wide receiver Richard Jules found him on a 27-yard pass. That touchdown was Jules’ first passing touchdown and gave the Runnin’ Bulldogs 21 unanswered points and a 45-24 lead.
The 49ers were picking up momentum and driving the ball after two consecutive first downs by Phillips and Hunter. The 49ers were going to go for it on a fourth and three, but a false start call forced the kicking team on for the 49ers. Brewer missed the field goal sending it wide left, leaving the 49ers trailing 45-24 with 1:48 to play in the third quarter.
The 49ers opened the fourth quarter with a pick by Martay Mattox to give him his first interception of the season and 10th team interception. Johnson took a big hit and Lee McNeill relieved him for a play. On fourth and goal on the GWU 5-yard line, Johnson came back in and connected with Crawford on a 5-yard pass for a touchdown. The 49ers trailed 45-31 with 12:30 to play in the game.
Charlotte forced GWU to punt after a three and out. The 49ers took possession of the ball on their own 10-yard line. On a third and eight, Johnson found Crawford to pick up a first down and prevent the 49ers from being forced to punt. Charlotte ran out of downs and though Johnson found Duke on a fourth down, it wasn’t enough to pick up the first.
A bad snap by Hudson Smith over the punter Day’s head gave the 49ers a safety – their second in school history – cutting the GWU lead to 12 with 5:20 to play in the game.
The 49ers continued their momentum on the drive when Johnson connected with Duke on a 20-yard touchdown pass, cutting the GWU lead to five with 4:27 to play in the game.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs took possession of the ball on their 13-yard line. Nico Alcalde sacked Beatty on a second down. That was Alcalde’s first career sack. GWU was forced to punt after a strong Charlotte defense prevented the Runnin’ Bulldogs from picking up a first down.
With 3:23 to play in the game, the 49ers took possession of the ball on the GWU 48-yard line, giving them good field position to score. Johnson found Bostick on a 48-yard pass for a touchdown, giving the 49ers their first lead of the game with 3:15 to play. The 49ers attempted a two-point conversion, but were unsuccessful. The 49ers took a 46-45 lead with 3:15 to play in the intense game for the biggest comeback in school history.
Blount fumbled the ball and Mark Hogan recovered the fumble to give the 49ers the ball back on their own 44-yard line. Alan Barnwell dodged defenders and made a 56-yard dash to the endzone. After a successful extra point by Brewer, the 49ers secured a 53-45 lead and 29 unanswered points with 2:19 to play in the game.
After a roughing the passer call on the 49ers, Blount ran a 1-yard carry into the endzone, forcing the Runnin’ Bulldogs to attempt a two-point conversion that would tie the game. Strong pressure by the Charlotte defense prevented the GWU offense from tying the game, securing a 53-51 lead.
Hunter recovered a GWU onside kick giving the 49ers the ball on the GWU 46-yard line with 0:31 to play.
“That was the most exciting football game I’ve ever played,” said a speechless Johnson who plans to spend his Sunday celebrating at home with family.
“I’m going home for the first time in five weeks.”
Johnson finished the day completing 27 of 46 passes, for 342 yards and five touchdowns.
“I wasn’t sure if we could ever slow them down,” said Head Coach Brad Lambert.
“The thing I’ve admired about this football program is their preparation each week. They’ve done a really good job of preparing Monday through Thursday for whatever’s coming on Saturday.”
The 49ers host the UNC Pembroke Braves on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. for their Homecoming game at Jerry Richardson Stadium.