Saturday, October 21, 2023

Charlotte’s Defense Stifles ECU; 49ers Grab First-Ever AAC Win, 10-7

GREENVILLE – Charlotte’s stout defense had a record-setting performance as the 49ers picked up their first-ever American Athletic Conference victory, defeating East Carolina 10-7 on a chilly Saturday afternoon at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The 49ers displayed their dominance right from the outset, with quarterback Jalon Jones engineering an impressive 73-yard drive on the opening possession, consuming a season-long 7 minutes and 28 seconds of play. Kicker Jake Larson then converted a 35-yard field goal, giving Charlotte an early 3-0 lead. The 49ers’ defense complemented the strong start, holding ECU to a mere 49 yards of total offense in the first half, maintaining their lead heading into the break.

The second half began with Charlotte extending their lead as Jones executed a 30-yard pass play to Duane Thomas Jr., setting up his own one-yard touchdown run. This score marked Jones’ team-leading fourth rushing touchdown of the season.

Charlotte QB Jalon Jones
Photo Credit: Sam Roberts/FreezeFrame

The 49ers’ defense continued to stifle ECU, limiting them to 10 yards or less on eight of their first nine possessions, preserving the 10-0 lead well into the fourth quarter.

However, a muffed punt changed the course of the game, as it set up ECU at the Charlotte 10-yard line with 13:22 to play. ECU capitalized on the opportunity, narrowing the lead to 10-7 with a 10-yard pass from Alex Flinn to Shane Calhoun.

In a nail-biting final quarter, Charlotte had a chance to seal the victory but failed to convert on a 45-yard field goal attempt. The 49ers’ defense stepped up once again, forcing ECU into a three-and-out, with Stone Handy contributing an 11-yard sack to protect their slim lead.

ECU had one last opportunity, taking over with 2:29 on the clock. After three first downs moved the ball to the Charlotte 29, Eyabi Okie-Anoma delivered an eight-yard sack, pushing the Pirates back to the 37. One play later, ECU managed to gain six yards on third-and-18, moving to the 31. However, the 48-yard field goal attempt went wide, securing Charlotte’s first-ever victory as a member of the AAC.

Key statistics of the game included Jalon Jones rushing for a career-high 127 yards, marking the first 100-yard rushing performance by a 49er this season. Charlotte’s defense recorded 6.0 tackles for loss, the fifth time this year that they achieved this feat. Eyabi Okie-Anoma registered his fifth sack of the season, tying for the fifth-most in a single season by a 49er. He also recorded one quarterback hurry, bringing his season total to nine, just one shy of Larry Ogunjobi’s school record.

For ECU, Julius Wood led the defense with 10 tackles and logged his third career interception. Kingston McInstry collected his first career fumble recovery, and Alex Flinn, who entered the contest in the second half, completed 11 of 18 pass attempts for 69 yards and a touchdown. Shane Calhoun caught his second touchdown reception of the season and sixth of his career.

The game was East Carolina’s first meeting with Charlotte on the gridiron, and the Pirates are now 55-13 in Homecoming contests. Despite the loss, ECU has an impressive streak of not being shut out in 319 games, setting a school record.

Charlotte head coach Biff Poggi expressed his satisfaction with the team’s performance, emphasizing their inaugural AAC victory as a historic achievement. ECU head coach Mike Houston acknowledged the close game and the missed opportunities, vowing to improve for future contests.

Charlotte’s win marks a significant milestone in their young program’s history, while ECU will be looking to bounce back in their upcoming games.

Up Next: East Carolina takes on American Athletic Conference newcomer UTSA next Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., with the game streaming live via ESPN+. Charlotte plays host to fellow American Athletic Conference newcomer Florida Atlantic this Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.