What was a huge day for the 49ers’ program turned into a sour evening as Florida Atlantic found life in the second half, handing Charlotte its first home loss of the season, 38-9.
Florida Atlantic erupted for 21 points and forced two turnovers in the third quarter to pull away, breaking a five-game road losing streak dating back to 2020.
In a pivotal game for the 49ers’ Conference USA championship positioning, Charlotte was outplayed in every facet. With 13 days and a bye week to prepare, Charlotte’s offense was shut out in the second half for the third time this season.
Following a sluggish first half for both clubs, the Owls used an up-tempo offense to wear down the 49ers’ defense, although Charlotte held the ball for well over 34 minutes of the game.
FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry bounced back from his three-interception performance against Alabama-Birmingham, completing 9-of-11 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns. After being held to just 46 rushing yards in the first half, the Owls leaned on their stable of backs, gashing the 49ers for 427 total yards and 202 on the ground.
Meanwhile, Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds, completed 77% of his passes for 190 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but just 55% of his passes for 29 yards and two interceptions in the second.
Charlotte forced its fifth red-zone turnover of the season on the Owls’ first possession as tailback James Charles fumbled the handoff, recovered by Markees Watts at the 49ers’ 16-yard line. Charlotte struck first as its drive stalled inside the red zone, settling for a 24-yard field goal from Jonathan Cruz.
After being held scoreless in the first quarter, the Owls engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive capped off as T.J. Chase reeled in an 8-yard touchdown catch from Perry. FAU was held scoreless in the first quarter for the fourth time this season, but the second-half adjustments were telling.
Charlotte struggled with goal-to-go situations early, but a fourth-and-goal with 3 seconds left in the first half paid off as Reynolds found Grant DuBose for a 1-yard score. Charlotte led 9-7 at the half as Cruz missed his second kick of the evening on the point after, breaking his streak of 61 straight dating back to 2019.
Florida Atlantic came out firing in the second half, scoring in just 82 seconds on a four-play, 65-yard drive. Perry found Johnny Ford out of the backfield and Ford did the rest streaking up the Owls’ sideline to put them ahead for good.
Trailing by 22 points midway through the fourth quarter, Texas A&M transfer James Foster replaced Reynolds, seeing the field for the second time this season. Reynolds tossed both interceptions in the third quarter as Ahman Ross and Korel Smith recorded interceptions, the latter’s second pick of the season.
One bright spot for the 49ers was Victor Tucker. The Miami native recorded the 13th 100-yard receiving performance of his career and his third straight against Florida Atlantic.
The Owls were far superior in the key Conference USA East Division matchup. Charlotte suffered its first blowout loss of the season and will have another tough matchup in Bowling Green against Western Kentucky next Saturday.
The 49ers ran 74 plays on offense, 23 more than the Owls, but were outgained by 76 yards.
Following the Owls’ first touchdown, Charlotte looked to match a score with a score. The 49ers drove the field, setting up with a first-and-goal inside the Owls’ 10-yard line. Panda Askew was flagged for the third time on the night on the first play inside the red zone, then Grant DuBose was flagged for offensive pass interference on the following play. Backed up to the 32, Reynolds fumbled the option handoff and the Owls recovered, ending Charlotte’s drive with no points.
Florida Atlantic completed just nine passes in the win, three of which were for touchdowns. Charlotte was allowing 15 yards per reception entering the night, and the Owls added to the total averaging 25 yards per catch. Four Florida Atlantic receivers had catches of 30 yards or more.
The 49ers’ starting tackle duo of Jaxon Hughes and T.J. Moore missed their second consecutive game. Charlotte shuffled the offensive line starting Chibueze Nwanna (LT), Panda Askew (LG), Hunter Kelly (C), Ashton Gist (RG) and D’Mitri Emmanuel (RT). Reynolds was under pressure early and often in the loss.
20: straight games with a catch for Tucker.
31: unanswered points from the Owls in the second half.
4: Florida Atlantic receivers averaged 25 yards per catch or more, led by Je’Quan Burton’s 39.