By Jim Morrison
It was a night of firsts for the Charlotte 49ers football team Saturday night at Jerry Richardson Stadium.
Before a homecoming crowd of 11,889, senior wide receiver Chris Montgomery’s flea flicker two-point conversion pass to quarterback Hasaan Klugh in overtime capped off an improbable 17-point second-half comeback, lifting Charlotte to its first victory of the season, 25-24, over visiting Alabama-Birmingham.
Montgomery – who played quarterback at Burns High in Cleveland County – hit Klugh in the end zone for the game-winning points after Klugh had handed the ball to tailback Benny LeMay, who tossed it to Montgomery, who stopped and threw it to a wide-open Klugh.
The win snapped Charlotte’s 10-game losing streak, which spanned two seasons and was the longest in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision. The 49ers last victory was a 38-27 triumph back on November 5, 2016 at Southern Mississippi.
It was the 49ers first-ever Conference USA win at home and their initial overtime victory after three prior attempts. Charlotte (1-7 overall, 1-2 in Conference USA) also won before a homecoming crowd for the first time in the program’s brief five-year history.
“It was electric that’s the only way I can explain it,” said an elated Montgomery about the emotion on the field after Klugh’s catch gave the 49ers the win. “From the coaches, to the players, to the fans, the whole atmosphere was just electric. Just being a part of it is a blessing.”
Charlotte’s game-winning call was set up by a Klugh one-yard touchdown run which pulled the 49ers to within an extra-point of forcing a second overtime. Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert, however, decided to gamble and go for the win.
“Just a gut feel,” said Lambert about his decision to go for the two-point conversion. “I really liked that play and I thought we had the momentum late in the game. They ran the ball down our throat in that first part of the overtime and I had made the decision pretty early in the overtime, that if we scored, I was going to go for two. I felt like it was the right time to run that play.”
UAB (4-3 overall, 2-2 in Conference USA) took the lead on the opening possession of overtime on a one-yard run by red-shirt junior quarterback A.J. Erdely, who also completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hayden Pittman and ran for a three-yard score to propel the Blazers to a 14-0 halftime advantage.
UAB extended the lead to 17-0 on its first possession of the third quarter when Nick Vogel hit a 25-yard field goal.
Facing an 0-8 record heading into a bye-week, Charlotte began its comeback late in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 17-7 on a Klugh nine-yard touchdown run. The Concord, NC native on the night ran for a game-high 145 yards and two touchdowns on 25 attempts.
The 49ers then made it 17-14 with 10:34 remaining in the fourth quarter when Klugh, who also completed 14-of-28 passes for 154 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, hit senior wide receiver Trent Bostick on a 68-yard touchdown pass.
On the ensuing possession, sophomore safety Ben DeLuca stripped UAB tailback Spencer Brown to give the 49ers the ball back and kicker Nigel Macauley completed the comeback with a 24-yard field goal, making it 17-17 with 6:27 left.
Quotes To Note
Head coach Brad Lambert
“ First off, hats off to UAB. [A] heck of a football team. I thought they (UAB) were really hot coming in after winning two games on the last play. Give them a lot of credit. Our guys challenged them at the half, at the start of the fourth quarter and in the overtime. I thought our guys did a really nice job in crunch time tonight, really late in the game making some plays. We were down and had to overcome a lot of penalties and I didn’t like that aspect of our game. We made plays down the stretch and really had good execution down the stretch.”
On reason behind the call
“No, I just made it. Each game presents its own opportunities to make decisions and coming down the stretch, I felt like we had come all the way back and put ourselves in a good position. And I really just liked that play, and at that time, I felt like it was going to work out for us.”
Senior wide receiver Chris Montgomery
On the two-point conversion play
“We’ve practiced that play many times and all this team is about, is execution. I didn’t see anybody but Hasaan [Klugh] and I just threw it to him.”
On what his thought process was when play was called
“A lot went through my mind. There was a graduate assistant coach who always told me that you just need one play and that’s what was going through my mind. This game is on one play and thanks to the coach for putting us in the right position to make the play, we made it work.”
Sophomore defensive back Ben DeLuca
On the fumble he forced and recovered
“It was just a conscious effort. Coach Wally (defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt) is always reiterating that we need to try to force turnovers and I may have been able to get my hands on the ball for an interception. The alternative is to just strip the ball. It was late in the game where I had to flip the field and the play was just gut instinct.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Hassan Klugh
On what has changed for the first conference win of the season
“We just have to make smart decisions. We go out and play hard and the preparation is the biggest key, along with knowing your opponent in and out throughout the week.”
On his running ability
“I have the ability to run the ball. When we call drop back, it opens up lanes for our wideouts. It also opens up lanes for the running backs. It’s just amazing.”
On the fourth down run in overtime
“I just knew it was fourth down and I tried to pick up as many yards as I could. I knew in the vicinity where the sticks were at. The game was on the line. I looked downfield for receivers and just saw an open lane.”
On his feeling of getting the first win of the year
“It feels good. We never gave up no matter what our record is. We executed what we did in practice. The biggest key is preparation and also the approach in practice. We approach every game and practice the same way. We showed a lot of discipline.”
Senior wide receiver Trent Bostick
On first win on Homecoming
“It’s just amazing to be in that moment, being with the team and us not giving up on each other. We pushed each other to execute and take it one play at a time. Coming into overtime, we just had to take it one play at a time. This first Homecoming win is not just big for me, but for the whole team and football staff.”
On team’s mindset when trailing
“We never got down on our ourselves. We made the corrections we need to make and went out there and executed the plays. Every player at every position did their job to make this work.”
On his 68-yard touchdown catch
“I just wanted to let Hasaan know I have his back and he’s my quarterback. No matter what play is called or when my name is called, we got his back as a team and we were going to go out there and give the best we have. The mindset wasn’t different from all the other plays we had. It was just up keeping each other level and keeping the team level to stay in that moment.”
Head coach Bill Clark
“We were right where we needed to be early on but we couldn’t put them (Charlotte) away. Give them credit; I saw them two or three weeks ago and I said they’ve got a good group, including a dynamic quarterback. I’m not going to make any excuses, give them all the credit in the world. They kept hanging in there and forced an overtime. I thought it was a smart play to go for two after the overtime touchdown with all the momentum.”
On Hasaan Klugh’s play
“I thought he played great. He went in there and got the first overtime touchdown. AJ [Erdely] had a solid game but give them credit, their defense played well.”
On moving forward to the next game at Southern Miss and staying focused
“It’s going to be tough. It’s a fight every week in this league and nobody’s going to roll over or lay down. We had a great week of practice and we have to keep getting better. It’s going to be a war again next week.”