The Charlotte 49ers marched up and down the field Saturday night at Riccardo Silva Stadium, piling up more than 300 yards of offense and building a 26-7 lead over seemingly overwhelmed Florida International.
Then the rest of the game happened.
The Panthers scored a touchdown shortly before the half, and they outscored the 49ers 16-3 after intermission for a 30-29 victory.
Charlotte’s final chance at a first 2017 victory disappeared in the humid south Florida night when a game-winning field goal try went wide left in the final minute.
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So now the 49ers (0-5, 0-1 Conference USA) come home to face Marshall in a league game at 6 p.m. Saturday.
And we have these five takeaways to consider:
LeMay rolls again
Well, for two quarters, at least. Butler High’s Benny LeMay was unstoppable for a half, carrying nine times for 134 yards. He finished with 178 yards, the fifth-best single-game performance in 49ers history. But he was held to 44 yards on 13 rushes in the second half.
LeMay has two 100-yard games in the 49ers’ last three contests.
Passing game has improved
Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said Greg Adkins, promoted to offensive coordinator last week, would make changes in an interception-prone passing game. Quarterback Hasaan Klugh completed 16 of 28 passes for 155 yards and no interceptions in his most efficient outing this season.
In Charlotte’s final drive, Klugh completed three passes and moved the 49ers from their 2 to the Florida International 31. But the passing game was erratic in the third quarter and most of the fourth, which allowed the Panthers (3-1, 2-0) to get the ball and catch up.
Negative plays hurt
Part of the 49ers’ second-half offensive trouble was with negative-yardage plays. Charlotte had six plays for lost yardage and a sack in the game, and several times in the second half the 49ers missed third-down conversions by a few yards. In close games, those sorts of problems are magnified.
Kicking woes again
The 49ers lost a one-point decision to Florida International last season with a missed 49-yard field goal try. This time, it was a miss from 48 yards. Charlotte also missed the conversion kick after its second touchdown.
Jackson Vansickle, who had battled with Nigel Macauley in preseason for the place-kicking job (Macauley won), converted on a 39-yard field goal try in the third quarter. Macauley, who coaches think has the stronger leg, missed the 48-yarder at the end.
“We just wanted to give the kids a chance to win,” Lambert said of his decision to go for the field goal on a fourth-and-2 at the Panthers’ 31 with 37 seconds left. “If you don’t make it on fourth down, you’re kicking yourself.”
Charlotte also missed a field goal at a key time in the game last week against Georgia State.
FIU made the adjustments
Give credit to FIU coach Butch Davis, a former head coach at Miami, North Carolina and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. His team made second-half adjustments that shut down Charlotte’s offense and allowed the Panthers’ attack to roll.
Florida International scored on one of its first five possessions, then scored on four of its last six.
“I thought they made a nice adjustment,” Lambert said. “We would move the ball a little bit and then it would stall out.”