Charlotte Football - An Amazing Comeback

An Amazing Charlotte Football Comeback


The game was over. 

To many in attendance at Jerry Richardson Stadium, the festivities seemed to end with 5:30 remaining in the third quarter, as the nationally-ranked Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs reached the end zone on a wide receiver pass from Richard Jules to Mike Estes to extend their lead to 45-24.  Their quarterback, Lucas Beatty, had already matched a single-game career high with four passing touchdowns.  Gardner-Webb had scored 21 unanswered points, and it would have been easy for Charlotte's first-year program to say that they hung with a team who had defeated Furman, Richmond and Wofford for a half.

The 49ers, though, had other plans.

Everything started harmlessly enough, as C.J. Crawford caught a five-yard touchdown strike from Charlotte quarterback Matt Johnson to bring the score to 45-31 with 12:30 remaining.  While Gardner-Webb's high-tempo offense hit a wall, Charlotte hit the comeback trail.  Gardner-Webb kept punting, and Charlotte kept scoring. 

After a Gardner-Webb punt, an eleven-play, 61-yard Charlotte drive ended with a turnover on downs.  Still more Niner fans probably thought that if the game wasn't already over, that turnover surely had to seal the deal.  Gardner-Webb regained possession with 7:43 remaining and a two-touchdown lead, but could not gain a first down against a rejuvenated Charlotte defense that seemed to bring more pressure with each down.  Jordan Day dropped back to punt, and the game seemed to turn, yet again. 

The snap sailed over Day's head, forcing him to retreat to the end zone to retrieve the ball and fall on it for a safety.  After the free kick, Charlotte drove 50 yards in five plays over 53 seconds to cut the Gardner-Webb lead to 45-40.  Gardner-Webb then got the ball with 4:27 remaining and a chance to salt away the game, but could not gain a yard in producing yet another three-and-out possession.

“We talked to the guys in the second half about just keep holding and keep pushing, and we've just gotta stop them on that next drive,” said Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert of his defense.  The Niners did just that in the first four Runnin' Bulldog drives of the fourth quarter, allowing just 27 yards on 11 offensive plays.  Linebacker Mark Hogan added, “We won the fourth quarter.”

After that Gardner-Webb punt, Charlotte needed just one play, a 48-yard touchdown pass from Matt Johnson to Trent Bostick, to take the lead 46-45 (the two-point conversion was unsuccessful) with 3:15 to go in the game.  Gardner-Webb's next drive managed to last just two plays before the 49ers forced – and subsequently recovered – a fumble.  Charlotte then converted their second-straight one-play touchdown drive, as running back Alan Barnwell plowed through defenders for a 56-yard touchdown, giving Charlotte their first lead of the day at 53-45 with just 2:19 remaining.

The game surely – again – had to be over, right? Not so fast.

Gardner-Webb launched an eleven-play, 72-yard drive, reaching the end zone on a one-yard run by Juanne Blount with 31 seconds left in the game.  The Runnin' Bulldogs two-point attempt fell to the turf short of the goal line, however.  The one final chance for Gardner-Webb to win the game came to an end when their onside kick attempt was recovered by Charlotte, who kneeled out the clock to seal the 53-51 victory.

Though the 49er football program is still in its infancy, the Charlotte players clearly understood the gravity of this victory.  “This was a big statement for our program and just feeling like that is so surreal,” said wide receiver Austin Duke.  Quarterback Matt Johnson echoed those sentiments, saying, “There's no laying down […] you know, we're a bunch of freshmen, and we knew if people were gonna come sit in the stands, we were gonna have to play good.”  49er coach Brad Lambert expressed the excitement and tension of the game in his opening postgame remarks, stating that the game “took some years off my life”.

The two teams certainly enjoyed a day for the ages on offense.  Gardner-Webb and Charlotte combined to tally 66 first downs, 186 plays and 1063 total yards.  A total of 99 combined passes were launched by quarterbacks Beatty and Johnson, with Beatty notching the aforementioned tie with his career high in touchdowns (four).  Each team also featured a prolific rusher, with Juanne Blount (Gardner-Webb) rushing for 133 yards and two scores, while Charlotte's Alan Barnwell carried 18 times for 97 yards and the go-ahead score.  Runnin' Bulldog receiver Kenny Cook caught ten passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns, while Charlotte's Trent Bostick caught nine for 107 yards and a score.

Gardner-Webb (4-2) opens Big South play next week against eighth-ranked Coastal Carolina on the road in Conway, South Carolina, while Charlotte (4-2) hosts UNC Pembroke in the school's first-ever football Homecoming game.