Sep 17, 2021; Champaign, Illinois, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini head coach Bret Bielema looks on from the sideline against the Maryland Terrapins at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Brown, Illinois run all over Charlotte

Chase Brown rushed for 257 yards and two touchdowns to fuel Illinois to a 24-14 victory over visiting Charlotte on Saturday afternoon in Champaign, Ill.

Brown’s rushing total was the fourth-best performance in a single game in school history.

The Fighting Illini (2-4) ended a four-game losing streak. Illinois head coach Bret Bielema also earned his 99th career victory.

Illinois’ Brandon Peters did a nice job of managing the offense. He completed 10 of 19 passes for 78 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

For Charlotte (3-2), Chase Reynolds finished 17 of 23 for 191 passing yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Victor Tucker had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown, while Grant DuBose finished with four receptions for 70 yards.

Illinois opened the scoring with a 17 play, 64-yard drive that finished with a James McCourt 29-yard field goal.

However, Charlotte responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive of its own. The 49ers capped the drive with a 22-yard touchdown reception by Tucker.

Illinois regained the lead on Peters’ first touchdown pass of the season, a 10-yard completion over the middle to tight end Daniel Barker for a score.

However, Charlotte struck again just before the half. Reynolds found freshman receiver Elijah Spencer for a 27-yard score on a fade route with 46 seconds left in the first half, putting the 49ers up 14-10.

After forcing Charlotte to punt to start the second half, Illinois took the lead for good on a 10-play, 94-yard drive. Brown capped the drive with a 31-yard run.

After Charlotte’s Jonathan Cruz missed a 39-yard field goal, Brown extended the Fighting Illini advantage to 24-14 lead with an 80-yard jaunt up the sideline for a score.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds (3) gets ready to throw the ball during the first quarter of the game against the Charlotte 49ers at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

With revenge on its mind, Charlotte opens slate vs. Duke

Something good should happen for either Duke or Charlotte when the teams open the season Friday night in Charlotte, N.C.

Neither team has won a game since they faced off on Halloween night last year. So the new season is a chance to return to better places for both squads.

“We have a lot of good athletes on this team,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “A lot of youth. A lot of enthusiasm. A lot of speed.”

Duke is coming off a two-win season. The last of those victories was a 53-19 home whipping of Charlotte in the first meeting between the programs.

Charlotte had a rough time in the pandemic-impacted season as well. The 49ers posted a 2-4 record, playing only once after October and falling in that outing.

Yet the outlook is brighter now.

“I feel really good about our football team,” Charlotte coach Will Healy said. “We have to get some guys who were learning and understanding to really dive in.”

Gunnar Holmberg will be the fourth opening-day starting quarterback for Duke in as many seasons.

“The number of snaps represented at that position isn’t very many and they’ve got to show they can do it in a game,” Cutcliffe said. “Gunnar is our starter and I think the work he’s getting is making a big difference. But you’ve got to go out and do it in a ball game.”

Cutcliffe took over play-calling duties last season, but he has relinquished that role.

Charlotte has experience at quarterback with redshirt senior Chris Reynolds, who has been the starter in 24 of his 25 career games. He became the first-string QB for six games in 2018.

He said it’s important to stick to the process.

“Can we not get too greedy? Take what the defense gives us,” Reynolds said. “Everything is not going to happen in one play. … Good things can happen, especially with the vets that we have.”

Reynolds is second in program history with 5,042 passing yards and 36 touchdown throws.

In last year’s matchup, Duke built a 24-0 lead in the game’s first 18 minutes. That type of success was otherwise rare for the Blue Devils in 2020.

Cutcliffe said there are numerous areas that have been addressed. He said he hopes the defensive front can hold steady with a mix of younger players.

“It’s an interesting team,” Cutcliffe said. “There’s a lot of people who are working hard to earn some playing time. I think we’re going to play a higher number of people than we normally have played.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte 49ers head coach Will Healy during the first quarter of the game against the Charlotte 49ers at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Hilltoppers, 49ers try again as C-USA juggles schedule

Will the third time be the charm for Western Kentucky and Charlotte?

Conference USA announced Wednesday that the Hilltoppers and 49ers will try once again to play this season. The game, originally scheduled for Nov. 28 before being moved to and then postponed again on Tuesday, is set for a noon ET start on Sunday in Charlotte.

The announcement comes after FIU canceled its scheduled Saturday game at Charlotte due to COVID-19 issues within the Panthers’ program.

Elsewhere in the conference, Middle Tennessee’s game at UAB set for Saturday has been canceled, per a Middle Tennessee statement.

The league said matchups for the final week of the regular season — Dec. 11 and 12 — will be determined “no later” than Sunday.

“The most important aspect is the health and safety of our student-athletes and we felt it was not fair to them or our program to be able to play this game,” said MTSU athletic director Chris Massaro in a statement. “We were down to 49 scholarship players and would also have to play guys coming right off injuries. That is not a situation we want to put them in.

“It’s a disappointing day for our program and fan base, but this is an unfortunate outcome of the pandemic. Our players have done a remarkable job all year in navigating all these uncertainties.”

The schedule for Charlotte (2-3, 2-1 C-USA) has been in constant flux this season. Games against North Carolina, Georgia State, Florida International, Middle Tennessee, Gardner-Webb and Marshall were either canceled or postponed. The 49ers have not played since a 53-19 loss at Duke on Oct. 31.

Sunday’s game is the last one on the schedule for the Hilltoppers (4-6, 3-3).

FIU (0-5, 0-3) has also seen its schedule wracked by postponements and cancellations. The Panthers have lost games at UTEP and now at Charlotte, and also lost a home game against Louisiana Tech.

FIU is scheduled to host No. 21 Marshall (7-0, 4-0) on Friday, Dec. 11.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte 49ers head coach Will Healy during the first quarter of the game against the Charlotte 49ers at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte-Middle Tennessee PPD due to COVID-19

Charlotte postponed Saturday’s Conference USA game at Middle Tennessee due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the 49ers’ program.

Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill made the announcement Friday and said the schools are hoping to reschedule the contest.

“We are extremely disappointed to have to postpone our game at Middle Tennessee. Our coaching staff and players were looking forward to the Conference USA matchup,” Hill said. “The health and safety of everyone involved, however, remains the top priority during these challenging times.”

It is the fourth game Charlotte has either canceled or postponed.

The next game scheduled for the 49ers (2-3, 2-1 C-USA) is at home against Gardner-Webb on Nov. 14. The Blue Raiders (2-5, 2-3) are set to play the same day at No. 16 Marshall.

On Wednesday, Conference USA rescheduled seven games that were postponed earlier in the season. One of those was Charlotte’s Oct. 17 home game against Florida International that now will be played Dec. 5.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte 49ers punter Connor Bowler (19) has his punt blocked blocked by Duke Blue Devils safety Isaiah Fisher-Smith (11) during the first quarter of the game against the Charlotte 49ers at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Duke runs over Charlotte behind five rushing TDs

Running backs Deon Jackson and Mataeo Durant each ran for two touchdowns as Duke topped visiting Charlotte 53-19 on Saturday night at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C.

Isaiah Fisher-Smith of Duke blocked punts in the first and third quarters, setting up scores for the Blue Devils (2-5) in their lone nonconference game of the season.

Durant rushed for 104 yards on 12 carries and Jackson posted 101 yards on 10 attempts, while teammate Jordan Waters had 78 yards on five carries with a touchdown. Quarterback Chase Brice was 8-for-14 for 106 yards and a touchdown.

Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds was 18-for-34 for 171 yards and a touchdown.

The 49ers (2-3) had touchdown scoring drives of 17 and 15 plays.

Jackson’s 65-yard touchdown run came on the second snap of the game. Durant’s 3-yard run stretched Duke’s advantage in the first quarter.

The Blue Devils’ second touchdown came after Fisher-Smith blocked a punt for the second game in a row, meaning that the Blue Devils needed to go only 31 yards for the score.

Charlie Ham’s 32-yard field game made it 17-0 less than 13 minutes into the game as the Blue Devils were on their way to their first home victory in three outings this season. Durant’s second touchdown run came from 10 yards out.

Trailing 17-0, Charlotte kicker Jonathan Cruz missed on a 45-yard field-goal attempt in the second quarter.

Fisher-Smith’s third-quarter blocked punt and recovery led to Jackson’s 5-yard touchdown run on the next play. Brice’s touchdown throw went for 8 yards to Jalon Calhoun late in the third quarter.

49ers redshirt senior safety Ben DeLuca made six tackles to tie the career school record with 306.

This matchup was on original 2020 schedules, though moved from September when summer revisions were made due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Charlotte was playing in the first of three consecutive road games after winning its home opener against North Texas a week earlier. The 49ers dropped to 0-3 all-time against Atlantic Coast Conference foes, falling at Louisville in 2016 and at Clemson last season.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterback Chase Brice (8) calls a play at the line against the Syracuse Orange during the first quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After rough ACC start, Duke steps out to face Charlotte

As most of the country waded into the college football season a toe at a time, the Duke Blue Devils dove in headfirst as the only team to play six straight games against other Power 5 conference opponents without so much as a week off.

The resulting 1-5 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference was not what the Blue Devils had in mind, but after a much-needed bye, coach David Cutcliffe says he’s looking forward to seeing his team turn the season around.

Duke returns to action Saturday night with a nonconference game against visiting Charlotte in Durham, N.C.

“I know people are tired of me saying this,” Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got a good football team with a bad record, so what do you do about that? You assess every part of everything you’re doing.”

Charlotte (2-2) is coming off its only home game to date, a 38-28 victory against UTEP. It was the second straight triumph for the 49ers, whose schedule has been massively interrupted by COVID-19 issues. Three games were canceled or postponed.

But after opening with a loss to Appalachian State, and another three weeks later to Florida Atlantic, the 49ers routed North Texas 49-21 on Oct. 10, missed another game, and then beat UTEP.

“Kudos to our guys to find ways to win football games,” Charlotte coach Will Healy said. “(It’s) so much fun to teach after a win versus teaching after a loss. That’s progress. That’s momentum.”

Duke also hopes to get things going in the right direction.

Cutcliffe said it’s often a matter of fixing 10 plays that have proven costly and making adjustments to prevent them from happening again.

“We have to increase that focus and intensity,” he said. “(We can) come out refreshed and ready to make a run in the second half of the season.”

Duke is dealing with roster reductions, perhaps most notably cornerback Mark Gilbert’s announcement earlier this week that he’s opting out of the rest of the season to prepare for the NFL draft.

What’s more, starting center Will Taylor underwent knee surgery this week, and the Blue Devils also lost backup quarterback Chris Katrenick, who opted out since their last game, citing personal reasons.

Duke junior quarterback Chase Brice has passed for an average of 243.5 yards a game, but he has completed only 55 percent of his passes and has been intercepted 11 times.

Charlotte has forced three turnovers twice this season.

“We preach running to the ball,” 49ers defensive back Lance McMillan said.

Charlotte redshirt senior defensive back Ben DeLuca, with 300 career tackles, needs six more stops to match the school record.

Senior defensive end Victor Dimukeje needs two sacks to break the Duke career school record. He has 20 1/2, including 6 1/2 so far this season, and hopes to put extra stress on a Charlotte offensive line that includes two freshmen.

–Field Level Media

Sep 21, 2019; Clemson, SC, USA; Charlotte 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds (3) hands the ball off to running back Benny LeMay (32) during the first quarter of the game against the Clemson Tigers at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Quarantine forces Charlotte to cancel game at No. 12 UNC

Charlotte canceled Sunday’s game at No. 12 North Carolina due to the impact of COVID-19 on its offensive line.

The school announced Thursday that three 49ers players have tested positive in the past two weeks and several offensive linemen are currently in quarantine, effectively depleting that unit.

“We’re extremely disappointed to have to cancel our game at North Carolina. While I know our team is heartbroken, due to the number of players in quarantine, we could not safely play,” said Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill. “We very much appreciate the University of North Carolina working with us to schedule this game.”

The game at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C., was supposed to be the first-ever meeting between the two schools, which are located about 225 miles apart.

The 49ers (0-1) opened the season with a 35-20 loss at Appalachian State last Saturday. The Tar Heels (1-0) kicked off their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule with a 31-6 victory over visiting Syracuse.

Charlotte said the current situation does not impact the status of its Sept. 26 home opener against Georgia State.

As of Monday, the school said there had been 20 positive results among the 3,150 tests administered to players, coaches and staff since June 10.

–Field Level Media