photo courtesy Kevin Harbin, Pick Axe Digest staff photographer

Wesley Wolverines 35, Charlotte 49ers 28: Late TD, poor 3rd down defense dooms Niners

The Charlotte 49ers had to win this one, right? They weren’t about to let a Division III program, albeit D-III power Wesley, come into Jerry Richardson Stadium and beat them on Senior Day, were they?

No such luck.

A Joe Callahan quarterback keeper with 2:14 left put the Wolverines up for good, and Matt Johnson failed to lead a game-tying scoring drive, as the Niners fell 35-28 in their final home game of the season.

AUDIO–QB Matt Johnson, LB Mark Hogan, DE James Middleton, RB Kalif Phillips and Charlotte head football coach Brad Lambert meet the media following the loss:

It was supposed to be a send-off for the seniors, with six players participating in their final home game of their careers. Instead, it was a sobering lesson learned.

“They had a good game plan, they executed, they won third downs…that’s a recipe for a rough day on defense,” a dejected Mark Hogan said after the game. “We’ve got to learn from stuff like this. I’ll be gone soon, but this experience for these young guys is brutal. I’ve been through some of it before. They’ll learn from it and they’ll get better from it.”

Third downs were the story. The Niners continued to keep the Wolverines offense on the field, and they paid the price: 10-17 allowed in 3rd down and a nearly 2-to-1 deficit in time of possession.

“In the last three or four games we’re just not playing good enough on third down. We’ve got to get off the field,” said coach Brad Lambert.

Nonetheless, the Niners hung in, scoring 21 straight points to take a 21-14 lead with 9:33 left in the 3rd quarter. But it was an Alan Barnwell fumble with 6:14 left in the frame that killed any momentum Charlotte hoped to maintain.

“I thought the fumble was huge,” Lambert said. “We were moving the ball, running the ball on them. I thought he was down…but that was huge. (W)e had them on their heels a little bit and had a chance to go up 14…but it didn’t happen.”

The ensuing drive for the Wolverines was a short touchdown run by Rick Jackson to tie it up at 21 with 2:09 left in the quarter. But despite a Kalif Phillips touchdown run to give Charlotte a 28-21 lead early in the 4th, Wesley went back to work, with a Bryce Shade touchdown grab with 8:41 left to tie it up and Callahan’s eventual game-winning score.

It was Phillips’ second half performance that was a bright spot for this team. He racked up 93 yards on 16 carries, most in the first half, and showcased the typical strong, hard-working style he has shown all year long. Matt Johnson was 19-39 for 177 yards and a score with an interception; Austin Duke had seven grabs for 96 yards.

But it was another tough outing for the Niners defense. They were gashed for 522 total yards, 317 of those from the arm of Joe Callahan (25-39, two passing TDs, one interception). Kyle George had 143 yards and a score on eight catches. Rick Jackson had 23 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown; Callahan rushed for a couple of scores himself.

So instead of a win, the Niners enter the final game of the season–Morehead State in two weeks–on a five game losing streak and hoping to turn the page on a disappointing home loss.

“Working on fundamentals–that’s how you turn the page,” Lambert said. “(We) always are teaching the guys (they’ve) got to learn from everything that happens to (them), and that’s what we’ve got to do in this situation.”

Tags: Charlotte 49ers Charlotte 49ers Football Wesley College Wolverines

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