The Charlotte 49ers’ offense exploded in conference opener against Middle Tennessee

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After scoring just nine points in its first loss of the season at Georgia State last week, the Charlotte 49ers’ offense exploded for 546 yards in a 42-39 shootout victory over Middle Tennessee.

Former walk-on quarterback Chris Reynolds now owns the title of 49ers’ program passing leader, surpassing Matt Johnson with 46 career touchdowns.

The phrase “match a score with a score” was in effect all evening in a game where defense felt optional. The combined 1,048 yards of total offense electrified a Richardson Stadium crowd of 11,076 on an evening that just felt like football.

Reynolds outdueled Chase Cunningham in a battle of 5-foot-11 quarterbacks. The pair combined for 815 yards and 10 touchdowns. Reynolds carried the 49ers’ offense with 339 passing yards and five touchdowns in the win, including a game-sealing jump into the end zone from 1 yard out.

Not to be denied, Cunningham came out firing in the first start of his career with 444 total yards and five touchdowns. Five different Blue Raiders receivers scored in the loss, led by Jarrin Pierce’s 10 catches for 92 yards.

Cunningham’s late-game heroics came up just short following his fifth touchdown of the game to Yusuf Ali with two minutes to play. The 49ers (3-1, 1-0 Conference USA) recovered the ensuing onside kick, securing their first conference win of the season in victory formation.

Grant DuBose scored the game’s first points on a 17-yard catch from Reynolds, the first of his two touchdowns. Cunningham answered immediately, accounting for all 75 yards on the Blue Raiders’ nine-play scoring drive as Jimmy Marshall caught his second touchdown of the season.

After scoring on its first two possessions, the 49ers’ offense fizzled out with two consecutive unsuccessful trips into the red zone. On the first drive of the second half, Charlotte kicker Jonathan Cruz’s 36-yard field-goal attempt was blocked, the Blue Raiders’ second blocked kick in as many games.

Coming into the Week 4 matchup, the Blue Raiders were one of three schools in the FBS to not attempt a field goal. Freshman kicker Zeke Rankin connected on his only attempt on the evening, giving the Blue Raiders (1-3, 0-2) their first lead from 26 yards out.

Lance McMillian, another former walk-on, shifted the momentum early in the third quarter with a near toe-touch interception along the Blue Raiders’ sideline. Cunningham’s only blemish on the night came when he fumbled the snap, then proceeded to heave what looked to be an uncatchable ball to the sideline. The call was overturned and ruled as an incomplete pass, but the energy on both sidelines shifted immediately.

A key toe-tap sideline catch by DuBose extended Charlotte’s ensuing drive and on the very next play, freshman Elijah Spencer caught his second touchdown in as many games. After four consecutive empty possessions, the 49ers capitalized with a nine-play, 89-yard drive capped off with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Spencer.

Calvin Camp recorded the 49ers’ first 100-yard rushing performance of the season with 12 carries for 101 yards and a 44-yard touchdown scamper at the end of the third quarter to put the 49ers ahead for good.

Five lead changes defined a back-and-forth game through three quarters, but the 49ers’ offense scored on four of its six second-half possessions to pull away in the final period.

First down

1,048 yards of total offense lit up the scoreboard throughout. Middle Tennessee’s previous best offensive output of the season went for 349 yards. Tonight, the Blue Raiders moved the ball for 502 yards. It’s safe to say that they’ve found their starting quarterback for the future in Cunningham.

Offsides

Two games, two crucial red-zone turnovers for the 49ers’ offense. Freshman wideout Spencer was stripped on a first-down catch deep in Middle Tennessee territory with less than a minute to play in the first half. Spencer was stripped by linebacker Cody Smith and Zaylin Wood recovered. Though it didn’t prove fatal, Charlotte must clean up the ball security inside the 20.

Touchdown

DuBose continued his breakout start making the jump from Division II at Miles College with nine catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns. DuBose caught the 49ers’ first two touchdowns of the game from 12 and 17 yards out, as well as reeling in a crucial sideline catch on third down to keep a Charlotte scoring drive alive.

ICYMI

News broke Monday morning that Middle Tennessee starting quarterback Bailey Hockman had left the program. Hockman was benched following a rough first half against Texas-San Antonio in favor of Cunningham.

Key numbers

12: career 100-yard receiving yard games for Victor Tucker as he caught five of his seven targets for 108 yards.

10: penalties for 86 yards proved costly for the Blue Raiders, including an offside call in the red zone late in the game.

46: career passing touchdowns for Reynolds, passing Matt Johnson for the most in program history.

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