By Hunter Bailey. November 17, 2018. CHARLOTTE, NC – Benny LeMay’s 159 yards and 4 touchdowns weren’t enough for the Niners as they fell 42-35 to FIU on
All photographic images credit: Sam Roberts/Freeze Frame
Senior quarterback Hasaan Klugh got the start for Charlotte, his first of the season. Klugh’s dual-threat abilities extended 49er drives and brought a new element to the run-first mentality head coach Brad Lambert thrives on. “He had a great week of practice, I was so excited to watch him play this week,” Lambert said after the game. “It didn’t surprise me how he played, you practice good, you play good.”
Charlotte only needed 5 plays to move 75-yards on the opening drive, capped off by LeMay’s 9-yard touchdown plunge. LeMay toted the rock 4 times for 50 yards on the drive, highlighted by a 31-yard run into the FIU red zone.
Following a FIU field goal from 25 yards out, Charlotte inserted freshman RB Ishad Finger as the feature back. Finger’s second and final carry of the day swung the momentum pendulum – a fumble scooped up by FIU’s Sage Lewis and returned 61-yards to Panther pay-dirt gave FIU a 10-7 advantage with 5:33 remaining in the first quarter.
Charlotte passed on a potential 40-yard field goal, electing to go for it on fourth and four. LeMay was met at the line by a pack of Panthers, resulting in a turnover on downs. FIU capitalized on the turnover with three points of their own, a six-point swing pushing the FIU lead to 13-7.
Klugh connected with freshman Victor Tucker on a 67-yard bomb to the FIU 8-yard line. Three plays later Charlotte faced fourth and goal from the one and LeMay struck gold for the second time on the day leaping over the FIU defensive line, putting Charlotte back in front 14-13. Tucker finished the day with 3 catches on 4 targets for 108 yards.
C-USA’s highest rated passer James Morgan led the Golden Panthers aerial attack with 268 yards and two touchdowns, completing 77% of his passes. FIU’s balanced offensive attack was too much for the 49ers, finishing with 490 total yards (294 passing, 192 rushing). Following a Charlotte three-and-out, Napoleon Maxwell took the FIU handoff 39-yards for a touchdown, pushing the Golden Panther lead to 20-14 heading into the half.
FIU’s first possession of the second half was quick, 79 yards in four plays using less than two minutes of clock to take a commanding 27-14 lead. Morgan found Austin Maloney on a 41-yard dart on the first play of the drive, then proceeded to use trickery tactics in devouring the Niner defense. WR Maurice Alexander came in motion, orbiting behind QB Morgan, and sprinted behind the line of scrimmage as if to set up a screen play. Morgan tossed a backwards pass attracting the Niners secondary, setting up Alexander’s heave to a wide-open Shemar Thornton at the Charlotte 6-yard line. The very next play, Morgan sprinted right, and shovel passed back left to Anthony Jones for the Golden Panther score.
Klugh’s impressive performance kept the Niners within striking distance, as he found Victor Tucker for their second-deep connection of the day, for 32-yards to the FIU 1-yard line. Klugh eclipsed the 3,000 career passing yards milestone on the completion, and LeMay capped off the drive with another 1-yard score. Charlotte’s offense displayed the firepower it’s lacked for most of the season, but the defense couldn’t make the stops necessary to win the game.
Both teams continued to trade scores, with FIU continuously holding a 7+ point lead the remainder of the game. Following a 52-yard touchdown scamper by Maxwell, Charlotte faced a 14-point deficit with under seven minutes remaining. Klugh capped off the Niners 15 play drive with a 12-yard aerial to Chris Phillips with 1:14 remaining in regulation, trimming the FIU lead to just 7.
FIU recovered Charlotte’s onside kick attempt, all but icing the game for the Golden Panthers. Charlotte’s miracle attempt came up short as Klugh’s prayer was intercepted with no time remaining.
Charlotte’s bowl hopes were crushed, and the harsh reality began to set in. Brad Lambert’s emotion spoke for itself after the game. “No matter how you shake it out, it’s always a tough locker room when you have to look those seniors in the eye knowing we didn’t get to where we wanted to go.”
Benny LeMay led the way for Charlotte, surpassing the 1,000 rushing-yard milestone in the second quarter. LeMay toted the rock 20 times for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone, finishing the day with 159 yards and four rushing touchdowns, tying the 49er school record.
Hasaan Klugh made the most of his senior day start, throwing 16-22 for 253 yards and a touchdown. He also tacked on 48 yards on 13 carries, keeping 49er drives alive throughout the game.
- Florida International (8-3) heads back to the Sunshine State to take on Marshall for their final home game of the season.
- Charlotte (4-7) travels to Boca Raton to take on Florida Atlantic (5-6). FIU fell to Florida Atlantic 49-14 just two weeks ago.