Overcoming a 21-point deficit and four turnovers is a steep challenge — one that Charlotte nearly completed. Ultimately, the 49ers fell to Old Dominion in the regular-season finale, 56-34.
Saturday’s game was much closer than the scoreboard indicated, and it was a gut-wrenching loss for coach Will Healy’s group.
The 49ers’ bowl hopes hinged on a win Saturday, and the 49ers fell short in what was a season-ending game at S.B. Ballard Stadium. Old Dominion weathered the 49ers’ comeback efforts, responding at every turn in the fourth quarter.
Ali Jennings III reeled in the game-sealing catch to cap off his hat trick from 36-yards out, putting Old Dominion up by two scores with four minutes to play. Jennings had nine catches for 252 yards and three touchdowns in the win, becoming the 11th player to record his career-high against Charlotte (5-7, 3-5 C-USA) in 2021.
Following quarterback Hayden Wolff’s second interception of the day, the 49ers had a chance to take their first lead trailing 35-31 early in the fourth quarter. With a first-and-goal at the 7, Charlotte was knocking on the door of a second bowl-berth in three seasons. But as resilient as Charlotte was in this one, Old Dominion (6-6, 5-3 C-USA) was one step ahead.
The Monarchs’ defense held Charlotte to a field goal, protecting a one-point lead. Old Dominion went on to score 21 points in less than four minutes to put Charlotte’s season to bed. The Monarchs have won five straight and qualified for a bowl following a 2020 season without football.
Ricky Rhane’s group started 1-6, but the tide turned when Wolff entered the starting lineup in October. Wolff finished the game 17 of 26 for 328 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Early woes for Charlotte
The first quarter featured many missed opportunities and multiple turnovers for Charlotte, and while a comeback seemed possible, the fourth quarter turned out to more of the same. Reynolds turned the ball over four times, proving to be the team’s downfall.
The 49ers’ opening drive looked promising with 67 yards on the ground at nearly 9 yards per carry, but an errant throw by Chris Reynolds in the red zone resulted in Joe Joe Headen jumping the route and returning it nearly the length of the field. Two plays later, Watson fumbled his first carry into the end zone, where right tackle Nick Saldiveri recovered to put the Monarchs on the board first.
Reynolds struggled early, throwing two interceptions in as many possessions and missing a wide-open Grant DuBose on a double move that would have been a touchdown. The Monarchs wasted no time capitalizing as Elijah Davis went untouched from 12 yards out, extending Old Dominion’s lead to 14.
Charlotte crossed midfield on its first three drives, but repetitive missed opportunities kept the 49ers off the scoreboard. On Charlotte’s third drive, the 49ers faced a fourth down where DuBose bobbled and dropped what would have been a first down deep in Monarchs’ territory. And again, Old Dominion capitalized on the turnover, driving 63 yards in three plays to take a commanding 21-0 lead.
The 49ers’ offense found life in the second quarter but dug themselves a three-score hole with the early struggles. Reynolds hit DuBose on a 32-yard deep ball to put the 49ers in the red zone, and then Charlotte went tempo. On the ensuing play, Reynolds found Elijah Spencer in the back of the end zone from 19 yards out to put Charlotte on the board.
Luke Martin’s second-career interception came at an opportune time as Wolff’s pass was batted at the line, and Martin took it back for a touchdown to pull the 49ers within two scores. Charlotte’s defense rallied late in the first half to keep it competitive. Trey Creamer blocked the Monarchs’ 42-yard field-goal attempt to keep the 49ers within striking distance at the half.
The 49ers kept the momentum rolling into the second half, forcing the Monarchs’ first punt on the opening possession. Five plays later, Reynolds found DuBose from 9 yards out to bring Charlotte within one score.
The ensuing possession, Old Dominion went three-and-out for the first time on the afternoon. The 49ers drove right down the field and Calvin Camp scored from 6 yards out to move the 49ers’ scoring run to 21 straight, tying the score at 28.
Watson’s go-ahead touchdown with 3:35 to play in the third quarter proved to be all the Monarchs needed. Watson carried 18 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns. There were over 1,000 yards of total offense in the contest.
After starting 4-2, the Charlotte 49ers’ season concludes with a 5-7 record. Healy’s group gave up the most points they have this season in the final loss of the year.
The 49ers were penalized 14 times for 110 yards.
After Jonathan Cruz connected from 39 yards out to cut the Monarchs’ lead to 4, Wolff looked to put pressure on the 49ers’ defense to extend the lead. On the second play of the drive, Mikel Horton pressured Wolff, forcing an errant throw and Lance McMillian picked off the pass, setting Charlotte up in Old Dominion territory early in the fourth quarter.
The Monarchs left the door open for the 49ers to take their first lead of the game, but penalties cost the 49ers dearly. With a first-and-goal at the Old Dominion 7, Charlotte was penalized multiple times and settled for a 44-yard field goal to cut the Monarchs’ lead to just one. Tackle Chibueze Nwanna was called for two penalties in three plays.
Old Dominion’s response to the 49ers’ 21-0 run kept the Monarchs’ season alive. The defensive line poured in three sacks in the second half, forcing Reynolds into rushed decisions and creating turnover after turnover late.
The Monarchs will appear in their first bowl game since the 2016 season. Rhane’s first full year has resurrected their program.
The 49ers’ secondary has been a revolving door this season. Charlotte was without safeties Marcus Robitaille and Solomon Rogers, meaning Matt Martinez started alongside Jon Alexander.
459 yards of total offense for Old Dominion
36 minutes of possession for the 49ers, but the Monarchs’ quick-strike ability proved too much.
2 defensive touchdowns on the season for Charlotte, both interception returns.