|Charlotte 49ers cap Senior Day with milestone bowl eligibility|
|24-13 win vs. Marshall is program-best sixth victory|
|Published Saturday, November 23, 2019 8:40 pm|
|PHOTO | CURTIS WILSON|
|For the first time in school history, the Charlotte 49ers are eligible for a postseason bowl game. They beat Marshall 24-13 Saturday on Senior Day.|
Bowl eligibility became reality for the Charlotte 49ers on a cold and rainy Saturday night.
Charlotte (6-5, 4-3 Conference USA) beat Marshall (7-4, 5-2 C-USA) 24-13 in Charlotte’s final home game of the regular season as fans rushed the field after the final whistle while athletic director Mike Hill and first-year coach Will Healy shared a tearful hug. Charlotte’s historic night makes them bowl eligible for the first time in program history, set a program record for a four-game win streak, and secured a program-best six wins.
“The weather and the senior day and the talk about it being the biggest game in school history, opportunity to go bowling, a lot of things that most of the time it takes programs a couple years to learn how to win games like that,” Healy said. “I wouldn’t say it was the prettiest execution we’ve ever had. I don’t know if we played our best football game, but for us to find a way to win is the sign of a program that is moving in the right direction.”
Charlotte expected to be without feature back senior Benny LeMay, who missed the previous two games with an Achilles injury. LeMay had other plans. He finished the day with 21 carries for 100 yards, his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season. The Butler High alumnus joined Kalif Phillips as the only two players in program history to surpass 3,000 career rushing yards.
“I really knew all week—element of surprise,” LeMay said.
Charlotte took the lead in the fourth quarter off a rushing touchdown from sophomore wide receiver Victor Tucker—his first career score on the ground. Tucker cemented the win with a 25-yard reception for a touchdown from sophomore quarterback Chris Reynolds with 48 seconds to go.
“After practice, me and Chris go through those situations all the time,” Tucker said. “When we get in those moments in the game, it’s just like another play. We knew what the expectation was. We want to make every play every time we put it in the air, and we just saw it come to fruition.”
Healy touched on how the expectation changed for the program from a four-game losing streak earlier in the season to the current four-game winning streak. The result of that experience forced the 49ers to go back to fundamentals, focus on winning one game at a time with emphasis on playing their best football at the end of the season.
“When you do that, it’s helped us have a lot of success,” Healy said. “We’ve been in the moment. We’ve been really focused, and we’ve had some really good weeks of practice. The things that are happening in practice for us are happening now in games.”
Healy has preached a transition in culture since he took the position last December. His message has taken hold.
“Vic said the other day in the meeting, ‘if you’d have ever told me that I would be exciting about blocking somebody well, I would’ve called you crazy,’” Healy said. “Now he says, ‘I’m not going to let anybody touch No. 32 [LeMay] or No. 3 [Reynolds]. You’re not going to do it. That’s the buy in that you need, and I think that’s when special things happen.”
Reynolds has made Charlotte’s offense his own after battling senior transfer Brett Kean for the starting position that was Reynolds’ last season. He led Charlotte with 25 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown against Marshall, completing 9-of-21 passes, two interceptions and a touchdown.
“He could have two broken legs and he would find a way to go out there and will this team to a win,” Healy said.
Said Reynolds: “When you see these seniors, and everything they worked for, when I was a junior in high school, these guys have been working forever, fighting for this. It’s not about the individual—it’s about everybody else around them. I’ve never been involved with a team that supports each other as much as this one.”
Charlotte concludes the regular season at Old Dominion (1-9, 0-6 C-USA) on Nov. 30. A win, and a bit of help in the Eastern Division could earn the 49ers a tie for first.
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