By David Rogers. August 29, 2019. CHARLOTTE, NC — Someone forgot to tell Gardner-Webb that they were 32-point underdogs to Charlotte in Thursday night’s 2019 college football season opener. The Runnin’ Bulldogs, however, eventually succumbed to the 49ers, 49-28 at Jerry Richardson Stadium.
COVER IMAGE: Senior running back Benny LeMay dives across the goal line for Charlotte’s first of seven TDs on the night. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News
The 49ers’ senior running back Benny LeMay carried the ball 16 times for a net of 120 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, redshirt sophomore quarterback Chris Reynolds shrugged off not being named the starter and came off the bench late in the first quarter to lift Charlotte to most of the team’s first 42 points, completing 14-of-20 passes for 136 yards and one TD vs. one interception, but also rushing seven times for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
It was a solid beginning to the “Will Healy era.” The new head coach was all smiles after the game. “I will never apologize for a win,” he told a group of reporters in the press conference at the Judy Rose Athletic Center.
Healy’s choice for starting quarterback to open the season was graduate transfer from South Florida, Brett Kean, ostensiby because of his ability to throw the ball downfield. Kean was anything but inspiring in the first two Charlotte series, completing 2-of-3 passes for 11 yards in his portion of the first quarter, tossing one interception.
The Runnin’ Bulldogs limited Charlotte to just 90 yards of total offense in the first quarter, almost all of it after Reynolds entered the game with 6:21 left in the first quarter. The 49ers immediately began to move the ball, including rushes by LeMay and Reynolds, as well as pass completions to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Cameron Dollar and freshman wide receiver Noah Henderson.
While Gardner-Webb twice stopped LeMay short of the end zone from the 3-yard line, LeMay dove over the goal line on 4th-and-one with 1:22 left in the first quarter to open what would become Charlotte’s scoring barrage. The 49 points is the most that the 49ers have scored in a single game since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level and Conference USA.
LeMay’s rushing performance in little more than a half was his eighth 100+ yard rushing tally in his career, highlighted by the longest run from scrimmage in his four years at Charlotte, a 65-yard romp at the end of the first half. It was the ninth longest run from scrimmage in the 49ers’ 6-year history of football at the school.
Charlotte won the game despite three turnovers, two interceptions at the expense of Kean and one by Reynolds, as well as the special teams unit giving up a 99-yard kickoff return to the Bulldogs’ freshman wide receiver Devron Harper.
Asked by Blowing Rock News what he saw in allowing the 99-yard kickoff return, Healy replied, “We just missed covering a lane. But what I liked most about that play was how we responded. Every time they did something like that, we answered.”
As debuts go, the new head coach of Charlotte could hardly have scripted it better than to have his team, the 49ers, score 49 points in his FBS coaching debut.
Charlotte hopes to carry its winning mojo to the High Country next weekend, Saturday, September 7, when the 49ers face Appalachian State in a non-conference, but FBS-level regional rivalry game. At home in 2018, Charlotte fell to the Mountaineers, 45-9. Kickoff at Kidd-Brewer Stadium is slated for 3:30 pm.