HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall had plenty of chances to strike it rich Saturday night against visiting Charlotte.
Now, the Green and White will be lucky to even be able to go bowling.
The Thundering Herd let a 24-17 halftime lead slip away after coming up empty on three golden second half scoring opportunities, and the 49ers rallied with 10 unanswered points down the stretch to claim a 27-24 Conference USA victory at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Cabell County.
Clinging to a seven-point intermission advantage, Marshall (2-5, 1-2 C-USA East) took the opening kickoff and marched down to the Charlotte four-yard line in nine plays.
The 10th snap, however, resulted in a Keion Davis fumble that ended up being recovered by the 49ers in the end zone, giving the guests possession at their own 20-yard line.
UNCC (3-5, 2-2) followed by putting together 12-play, 72-yard drive that ended with a successful 25-yard field goal by Blake Brewer, allowing the Niners to close to within 24-20 with 6:26 remaining in the third period.
Both teams traded punts on their ensuing possessions, then MU was forced into another punt that gave Charlotte the ball with 1:01 remaining in the third.
The 49ers responded with an impressive 16-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a permanent lead as quarterback Hasaan Klugh scrambled in from two yards out — making it a 27-24 contest with 8:32 left in regulation.
The Herd covered 47 yards in seven plays to get down to the UNCC 28-yard line on their ensuing possession, but then the hosts moved themselves out of field goal range with a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
Davis appeared to have recaptured the lead for MU on a 43-yard run on the next play from scrimmage, but a holding call negated the scoring scamper while pushing the hosts back to their own 47. The Herd eventually punted with 3:38 remaining.
Charlotte was forced to punt on its next drive, which led to good field position as Marshall started its final comeback bid at the UNCC 46 with 2:37 left.
The Herd needed only two plays to reach the 19-yard line, but then the Niners recorded a sack and forced two incompletions to set up the deciding play of the night.
Facing a fourth-and-14 at the 23, Marshall elected to go for the tie and sent kicker Amoreto Curraj out for a 40-yard field goal attempt. The boot sailed wide left, allowing the 49ers to hold on to their slim three-point edge with 1:14 remaining.
Charlotte ran three kneel downs in the victory formation to run out the clock, allowing the Niners to pick up the program’s second-ever victory against an FBS program in their four years of existence.
The Herd, on the other hand, will now have to win their remaining five contests if they want to extend their consecutive winning seasons streak and bowl appearance streak to four straight.
MU will also have to win out if wants to have a winning record against FBS opponents for bowl consideration. Marshall’s season opening win was against Morgan State, a FCS program.
Following the heartbreaking outcome, MU coach Doc Holliday spoke about the importance of not getting points following the Davis fumble on the opening possession of the second half.
The seventh-year mentor also noted that his troops had plenty of other chances to win this game, but they just didn’t make it happen.
“It would have been a two-score game. At the end of the day you hope you’d be able to come away with three there. We ended up coming up short and that’s not good,” Holliday said. “We didn’t finish at the end of the game and it’s disappointing. We moved the ball around, we just didn’t take care of the ball, and we committed way too any penalties. We didn’t make plays when we had to make plays, and it’s unfortunate.”
The 49ers took the opening kickoff and covered 75 yards in nine plays, which resulted in points after Kalif Phillips capped things off with a one-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 11:05 remaining.
After Jason Smith blocked a field goal attempt by UNCC, the Herd rallied with a six-play, 80-yard drive that was capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by Davis — tying the game at seven with 6:31 left in the opening stanza.
MU defensive back Chris Jackson picked off a pass on Charlotte’s next drive and returned it 31 yards to the UNCC four. Justin Hunt followed by hauling in a four-yard scoring pass from Chase Litton for a 14-7 cushion with 4:50 remaining.
The Niners, however, responded with an 11-play, 54-yard drive that led to a Brewer 38-yard field goal, making it a 14-10 contest with 1:10 left in the opening canto.
Hunt hauled in a second TD pass from Litton — this time from five yards out — to extend the MU lead out to 21-10 with 11:24 remaining, but Phillips answered with his second rushing score of the night following a five-yard scamper at the 8:48 mark for a 21-17 contest.
Curraj capped a six-play, 24-yard drive with a 38-yard field goal for a 24-17 lead with 7:22 left before halftime.
Charlotte outgained the hosts by a 394-350 overall margin in total yards of offense, which included a favorable 191-88 advantage in rushing yards. The guests claimed a 24-22 edge in first downs, finished plus-1 in turnover differential and also went 2-of-3 on fourth down conversions.
Marshall — which was 4-of-12 on third down conversions — was flagged a dozen times for 115 yards, while the Niners were penalized eight times for 77 yards.
Davis led the Herd rushing attack with 90 yards on 18 carries, while Litton finished the night 32-of-46 passing for 262 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception. Josh Knight led the MU wideouts with 10 catches for 94 yards.
Kendall Gant led the hosts with 14 tackles and Chase Hancock added 11 stops. Marshall recorded three sacks and had eight tackles for loss, with Jackson accounting one of each to go along with his interception.
Phillips led the 49ers with 123 rushing yards on 23 carries, while Klugh completed 17-of-31 passes for 203 yards and also rushed 13 times for 59 yards. Austin Duke hauled in seven passes for 76 yards.
Karrington King led UNCC with 13 tackles. The Niners recorded three sacks and had seven tackles for loss. Ed Rolle also came away with an interception.
Marshall — which is 0-2 away from Edwards Stadium this fall — plays three of its next four games on the road, starting Saturday when it faces Southern Miss at 7 p.m.
Bryan Walters is the Ohio Valley Publishing sports editor and can be reached at 740-446-2342, ext. 2101.