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

Illinois faces Charlotte, hoping to end 4-game skid

All the euphoria from a season-opening win under a new coach seems to be a distant memory right now for Illinois.

Since then, it’s been all disappointment as the Fighting Illini try to avoid a fifth straight loss on Saturday against visiting Charlotte in the first meeting between the teams.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Illinois opened up their season — and the tenure of Bret Bielema — with an upset win at home over Nebraska in front of a national TV audience.

In the four subsequent losses for Illinois (1-4), the margin of defeat has been seven points or fewer on three occasions.

“It’s frustrating, I get it,” Bielema said. “I tell these guys we have to keep chipping away.”

Illinois managed just three field goals in the 13-9 loss to Purdue on Sept. 25, in spite of an outstanding performance by freshman running back Josh McCray, who rushed for 156 yards on 24 carries in just his fourth game.

“The part that amazes me every time is how resilient they are and the lessons they are learning,” Bielema said. “This process isn’t going to be an easy one, but it’s going to be one that’s going to be worth it.”

Illinois has averaged just 13.3 points scored in its last three games.

Charlotte (3-1) stayed perfect through three home games this season with a 42-39 win on Sept. 25 over Middle Tennessee. Quarterback Chris Reynolds accounted for five touchdowns, four of them through the air.

It was a nice bounce-back performance for the 49ers, who scored just nine points in a loss to Georgia State the week before.

“You just feel really good when this football team is playing to where we are going to find ways to win games,” Charlotte head coach Will Healy said. “I thought we responded really well when adversity hit.”

Reynolds, a senior, enters the contest having completed 60.4 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions in four games.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils running back Mataeo Durant (21) is tackled by Charlotte 49ers defensive back Jonathan Alexander (1) during the second quarter at Jerry Richardson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte rallies to stun Duke

Chris Reynolds threw a game-winning, 11-yard touchdown pass to Shadrick Byrd with 33 seconds to play as Charlotte upended visiting Duke 31-28 in a wild closing stretch in Friday night’s season opener.

The 49ers covered 75 yards in seven plays on the winning drive. Byrd caught the swing pass in the backfield and ran to the end zone.

The result goes down as perhaps the highest-profile victory in Charlotte’s program history, knocking off an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.

Blue Devils running back Mataeo Durant ran for two long touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead score on a 53-yard burst with 1:44 to play. Durant rushed for 255 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.

Reynolds and Grant DuBose connected for their second touchdown play of the game with 2:29 to play, a 9-yard strike, to put Charlotte on top 24-21, but that edge didn’t last long.

Reynolds was 19-for-30 for 324 yards and three touchdowns in the air. He also ran for a TD. Victor Tucker caught eight passes for 133 yards.

Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg was 18-for-26 for 202 yards and one touchdown in his starting debut.

Neither team had won a game since Halloween night, when Duke clobbered visiting Charlotte 53-19 in the first-ever meeting between the programs. The Blue Devils lost their last four contests in 2020. The 49ers played just once more last year, falling to Western Kentucky.

Charlotte began the scoring with Reynolds’ 56-yard scoring pass to DuBose in the first quarter. It was 10-0 after Jonathan Cruz’s 32-yard field goal in the second quarter.

The Blue Devils went ahead before halftime, scoring twice in the last 8 1/2 minutes of the half.

Holmberg tossed a 43-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Waters to get Duke on the board. Durant put the Blue Devils on top with a 5-yard run.

Charlotte was back in front early in the third quarter on Reynolds’ 1-yard run.

Duke regained the lead on Durant’s 59-yard run with 13:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.

It was a devastating outcome for Duke, which finished 2-9 last year. The Blue Devils have dropped three consecutive season openers, having lost to Alabama in 2019 and Notre Dame in 2020.

–Field Level Media

Nov 7, 2020; Huntington, West Virginia, USA; The Marshall Thundering Herd mascot celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Marshall cancels Friday game against Charlotte

The Marshall Thundering Herd won’t be hosting the Charlotte 49ers in Friday’s scheduled regular-season finale due to a roster that’s been depleted by injury and a small coronavirus outbreak.

A statement from the team also cited a lack of available scholarship student-athletes at key positions.

“Due to the developments this week, myself and our medical team felt that it was unsafe to put the team on the field Friday evening,” athletic director Mike Hamrick said. “I’d like to thank Charlotte AD Mike Hill and the 49ers’ administration for their patience and understanding. I also want to thank the Conference USA office for its support and guidance as we worked through this process.”

Marshall was originally scheduled to play the 49ers on Nov. 21, but COVID-19 issues in the Charlotte program scuttled that date.

Marshall (7-1, 4-1 Conference USA East) suffered its first loss of the season last week, falling 20-0 to Rice and losing its No. 21 ranking in the process. It was the Herd’s first game since a 42-14 win over Middle Tennessee St. on Nov. 14.

Florida Atlantic is also 4-1 in Conference USA’s East division and plays Southern Miss on Thursday in their regular-season finale.

–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

Tuesday’s Western Kentucky-Charlotte game canceled

A rare Tuesday morning college football game has fallen victim to a not-so-rare 2020 problem.

Western Kentucky’s game at Charlotte was canceled as a result of COVID-19 testing within the 49ers’ program.

It was originally scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 28, before being postponed to Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET.

“We had high hopes that we would be able to play,” Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill said in a statement released Monday. “We are disappointed for both teams and appreciate WKU and Conference USA for having worked with us to accommodate the unusual game date and time.

“We’ll continue to follow the advice of our medical professionals as they guide us to the safest outcomes for our student-athletes, coaches and staff. We also recognize that having not played a game since Oct. 31 creates uncertainty for everyone involved. We will continue to make decisions with our student-athletes’ desires and best interests at heart.”

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.

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

Hill said the status of Charlotte’s game this Saturday against Florida International will be determined following the results of upcoming tests at both schools.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte 49ers head coach Will Healy celebrates a turnover with his players during the first half against the Charlotte 49ers at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte, Western Kentucky move game to a weekday morning

Charlotte and Western Kentucky will play a rare Tuesday morning game to give the 49ers a chance to clear COVID-19 protocols.

The Conference USA game was scheduled for Saturday and will instead be played Dec. 1 at 10:30 a.m. in Charlotte. The 49ers would not have been able to play this weekend, the school said in a news release on Monday.

“We appreciate WKU working with us and the league office to make this game happen,” Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill said. “This has been a challenging season for our team, and we are grateful for each and every opportunity we have to compete. It took some creativity — but we are willing to look at all options to reward our student-athletes for all the work they continue to put forth.”

This is the second game that Charlotte (2-3, 2-1 C-USA) has rescheduled because of the pandemic. Games against North Carolina, Gardner-Webb, Georgia State and Middle Tennessee weren’t played earlier this year, and last weekend’s game against Marshall was called off because of the outbreak in the Charlotte program.

The Hilltoppers (4-6, 3-3) have avoided any COVID-19 schedule changes and will end their season against Charlotte.

–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 postpones game at No. 15 Marshall

A COVID-19 outbreak within the Charlotte football program led the 49ers to postponed their scheduled Saturday road game against No. 15 Marshall.

Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill made the announcement Monday.

“We were really looking forward to this game,” Hill said in a statement. “Marshall has a tremendous team, and it was a big opportunity to compete against them. We’ve been on both sides of these postponements, and either way, it’s incredibly disappointing. We will use this week to get healthy and wish Marshall the best this season.”

No makeup date was announced.

Charlotte (2-3, 2-1 Conference USA) has now had six games canceled or postponed this season due to the pandemic. The 49ers’ next scheduled game is Nov. 28 at home against Western Kentucky.

The Thundering Herd (7-0, 4-0) had a game postponed for the fourth time. They are idle until a Dec. 5 home game against Rice.

The Charlotte-Marshall contest is the seventh game scheduled for this week that was postponed or canceled due to COVID-19.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2020; Syracuse, New York, USA; General view of a football on top of an end zone marker with the Atlantic Coast Conference logo displayed prior to the game against the Duke Blue Devils and the Syracuse Orange at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

ACC sets Dec. 19 as date for championship game

The Atlantic Coast Conference on Thursday announced that its championship game will be held Dec. 19 in Charlotte, N.C.

The conference opted for a later date after being forced to shift three games to the prior weekend due to COVID-19 postponements.

The title game will feature the league’s top two teams based on highest winning percentage in conference games. Heading into this weekend’s game, Clemson is 5-0 in ACC play (6-0 overall) and Notre Dame is 4-0 (5-0 overall), with Miami (5-1 overall) and North Carolina both with 4-1 conference records.

Clemson was No. 1 in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, with Notre Dame at No. 4, Miami ranked No. 12 and North Carolina at No. 15.

Notre Dame is scheduled to host Clemson on Nov. 7. Miami plays North Carolina on Dec. 5.

The Irish had their game vs. Wake Forest moved to Dec. 12 because of an outbreak of COVID-19 cases at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame, an independent in football, is playing as part of the ACC this season because of the pandemic. The school’s men’s and women’s basketball teams are permanent members of the conference.

–Field Level Media

Sep 26, 2020; Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA; Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles head coach Scotty Walden yells to his players in the third quarter against the Tulane Green Wave at M. M. Roberts Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Southern Miss-UTEP the sixth Saturday game postponed

Saturday’s scheduled game between Southern Miss and UTEP was postponed on Friday — the sixth college football game called off this weekend because of COVID-19.

Southern Miss said the Golden Eagles have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases in the football program and are unable to travel to Texas.

“The health and safety of everyone involved continues to be our guiding force which made this decision to postpone the game the appropriate one,” Southern Miss athletic director Jeremy McClain said in a statement. “We are disappointed for our student-athletes who will not get a chance to participate for a second straight weekend, however, we will work with UTEP, in conjunction with Conference USA, to reschedule this game for later this season.”

Southern Miss (1-3, 1-1 C-USA) also had last weekend’s game against Florida Atlantic postponed amid a COVID-19 uptick among the Owls.

A new date for the Southern Miss-UTEP game was not announced.

Southern Miss is scheduled to play at Liberty next Saturday, with UTEP scheduled to meet Charlotte that day.

Charlotte also won’t play on Saturday. On Thursday night, FIU announced its game with the 49ers was postponed because of COVID-19 cases within its program.

This is the third game called off for Charlotte (1-2, 1-1 C-USA). The 49ers’ game against North Carolina was canceled, with a postponement against Georgia State.

FIU (0-2, 0-1) has lost games against Jacksonville State and UCF.

Other games postponed this weekend: Vanderbilt vs. Missouri and Florida vs. LSU in the Southeastern Conference; Cincinnati and Tulsa in the American Athletic Conference; and Baylor vs. Oklahoma State in the Big 12.

–Field Level Media

Sep 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Pregame scenes prior to the Georgia State Panthers and  Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns game at Center parc Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia State: COVID-19 testing errors led to PPD

Officials at Georgia State said Sunday that incorrect COVID-19 test results led to the postponement of Saturday’s game at Charlotte.

The initial results from tests taken on Thursday showed four positives. Contact tracing identified 17 other individuals, including one coach, who would require a quarantine period.

But Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb blamed “human error.” He said those in question were retested Friday and the results were all negative for the coronavirus. Thursday’s swabs were also retested and came back negative.

“It was at this point that the lab director informed our medical staff that a human error Friday morning caused the error in test results,” Cobb said in a statement. “The disappointing news is that we could have played on Saturday. More importantly, the positive news is we are not dealing with an outbreak at this time. We appreciate the professionalism shown by (Charlotte athletic director) Mike Hill and Coach (Will) Healy throughout the past 48 hours.”

Georgia State (0-1), a member of the Sun Belt, will host East Carolina (0-1) in a nonconference game on Saturday.

Charlotte (0-1) is scheduled to open its Conference USA schedule on Saturday at FAU (0-0).

–Field Level Media

Sep 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA;Georgia State Panthers tight end Aubry Payne (88) is tackled by Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns linebacker Ferrod Gardner (7) during the first half at Center parc Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia State cancels Charlotte game amid COVID-19 worries

Georgia State postponed its football game at Charlotte, scheduled for Saturday, “out of an abundance of caution” following COVID-19 positive tests and contact tracing, Georgia State announced Friday.

In a news release, the school said the nonconference game had not been rescheduled.

This is the second straight unplanned week off for Charlotte, a Conference USA squad. Last week’s game against North Carolina was canceled because of a COVID-19 quarantine among Charlotte’s offensive linemen. The 49ers are 0-1 on the season after a 35-20 loss to Appalachian State on Sept. 12.

Charlotte is scheduled to open the 2020 Conference USA schedule at FAU on Oct. 3. The Owls have yet to play this season, with four games either canceled or rescheduled because of coronavirus-related reasons. That includes a game against South Florida, which was scheduled for Saturday.

Georgia State lost to Louisiana last weekend, 34-31, in the Panthers’ only game of the season so far. The Panthers are scheduled to host East Carolina on Oct. 3.

–Field Level Media