Friday, September 3, 2021

Charlotte Upsets Duke, 31-28, in First Win Ever Over a Power Five Opponent

CHARLOTTE – It was the first time that the Charlotte 49ers had ever hosted a Power Five opponent in its brief nine-year history. The crowd was excited to host an in-state opponent on a Friday night leading into Labor Day weekend. The fans in attendance were given a good show as the two teams combined for over a thousand yards of offense and five lead changes in the second half alone. Paced by Chris Reynolds's 324 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, and one rushing touchdown, Charlotte claimed its first-ever win over a P5 opponent, defeating Duke 31-28 to open the 2021 college football season.

The energy and momentum were on the Niners' side early in the game with Charlotte forcing the Blue Devils to punt on the first possession of the game and then hopping on the scoreboard five plays later with a 56-yard touchdown pass from Chris Reynolds to a streaking Grant DuBose. The early 7-0 lead had the 49ers faithful on their feet and saw the visiting Blue Devils scrambling to respond but unable to do so until a few drives later.

Charlotte led by a touchdown going into the second quarter and was on its way to a 32-yard Jonathan Cruz field goal to take a 10-0 lead over the visitors. Duke responded with force on its next drive, moving seventy-five yards in six plays, but it was the 43-yard scoring play that will stick out in the minds of the visiting fans. Gunnar Holmberg hit Jordan Waters on the left side and Waters bulled over a Charlotte defender and raced to the end zone. 

The Charlotte offense looked a little shaky on their subsequent drives in the first half. Duke did not show the hesitancy that they demonstrated in the first quarter, moving methodically down the field on their next drive, taking the lead with a five-yard touchdown run by Mataeo Durant. Durant finished the night with 255 yards and three scores.

Any signs that Charlotte might back down against Duke to start the second half were quickly dismissed as the Niners moved down the field, aided by a 40-yard Calvin Cook run to get Charlotte down to the one-yard-line. Two plays later, Chris Reynolds was able to hit paydirt on a quarterback sneak, helping Charlotte retake the lead. A promising Duke drive saw the Blue Devils poised to bring the lead back to the visitors, but a Tyler Murray forced fumble was recovered in the end zone by Charlotte, ending any hopes of a score.

The fourth quarter seemed like it would quickly become the Mataeo Durant show. The senior running back put the Blue Devils on his back, putting Duke back on top with a blistering 59-yard scoring run around the left side. Charlotte floundered around for a few possessions, but eventually came alive with quick passes to Taylor Thompson, Victor Cruz, and Grant DuBose got the Niners in scoring position and Charlotte retook the lead with the second Reynolds to DuBose touchdown of the night. Durant and the Blue Devils would not be denied, though, as the standout running back rushed for his second long touchdown of the quarter, a 53-yard scamper that gave Duke a 28-24 lead.

It was Charlotte's night, however, and fate had the Niners marching down towards their destiny. Victor Tucker's three big grabs got Charlotte in scoring position and Chris Reynolds found an open Shedrich Byrd for an 11-yard score to cause a scene unlike any other in the program's nine-year history.

Both teams host in-state FCS opponents next week as Charlotte (1-0) hosts Gardner-Webb while Duke (0-1) will face off against North Carolina A&T.

Notable North Carolinians

Chris Reynolds (Davie) – the senior quarterback passed for 324 yards and three scores while running for one as well.

Gunnar Holmberg (Heritage) – the graduate quarterback was 20 of 29 for 241 yards and a touchdown

Jordan Waters (Fairmont) – the redshirt sophomore's physical scoring catch and run opened the scoring for the Blue Devils in the second quarter