The 24th-ranked Charleston Southern Buccaneers (8-1) piled up 548 yards with its option offense but needed 15 fourth-quarter points to pull away for a 36-14 victory over the visiting 49ers.
Charlotte forced three turnovers against a team that had allowed just six all year, and recovered an onside kick as they continued to come up with ways to stay in the game.
Trailing 21-7 after giving up a TD on the opening drive of the second half, Charlotte (4-4) answered with a convincing drive of its own to close to within seven, 21-14.
On CSU's next possession, the Buccaneers again drove into the redzone, but the 49ers forced a fumble on third and goal from the two to stop the drive and regain possession. Charlotte held hopes of another top 25 comeback win similar to the fourth quarter rally against #24 Gardner-Webb.
Not today, though.
Charlotte's Alan Barnwell was caught in the end zone for a safety to make it a 23-14 game. The 49ers recovered the ensuing kick-off but a substitution infraction aided a three-and-out as the clock began to work against the 49ers.
"That's what I told the team," said 49ers head coach Brad Lambert. "That's how close we are going toe-to-toe with these teams on the road. Your talking about team that's 8-1 now. And that's the encouraging thing. That's what we've got to focus on as a team. We're right there at the end of the game. We give up the safety and hey we got the ball back -- that's where we have to get that mentality we had against Gardner-Webb and lets go find a way to finish this thing."
Charlotte drove to the CSU 30 on their next drive, but Blake Brewer's 47-yard field goal attempt that would have cut the lead to six drifted wide.
Charlotte's defense again forced a Buccaneer punt, but QB Matt Johnson was intercepted at the Charlotte 28 on the first play and CSU turned the short field into a touchdown run to make it 30-14 with 5:09 to play.
A Barnwell fumble on the first play of the next possession yielded another CSU TD with 3:43 left to give the Buccaneers their eighth win of the season.
Charleston Southern, the third of four ranked opponents on the 49ers inaugural season schedule, put up 302 yards in the first half, including 209 on the ground to build a 15-7 halftime lead.
Charlotte took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a 7-yard run from freshman Kalif Phillips. The 5-play; 65-yard drive was set up by a 41-yard pass from slot receiver Corey Nesmith Jr to Trent Bostick down to the CSU seven-yard line. The 1:19 drive was the 49ers 12th this season of under 1:30.
CSU responded with two second quarter TDs. They drove 63 yards in 10 plays and scored on Kyle Copeland’s three-yard run to open the second quarter. Copeland added the two-point conversion for an 8-7 Buccaneers lead. Just before the half, Danny Groghan connected with Kevin Glears on a 39-yard TD pass with just 8 seconds left for a 15-7 lead.
To open the second half, Crogan capped a 10-play 58-yard drive with a 14-yard pass to Chris Theodore for the 21-7 lead.
Charlotte pushed back on its first possession of the half, with Johnson rushing for 22 hard-fought yards and completing 5-of-5 passes for 54 yards. That drive set up a second TD run from Phillips, who reversed fields after getting bottled up and scampered 14 yards for his team-high 7th TD of the season.
"Kalif's doing the same thing he's done all year," Lambert said. "He's running the ball extremely hard. He's a physical guy. He's had a good year for us and we need him to finish strong."
After Phillips made it a one-score game, the 49ers forced the key redzone turnover but could not take advantage of that takeway or the ensuing onside punt recovery as CSU, instead turned two turnovers into late points to pull away.
Charlotte's tough road continues next week when they head to #3 Coastal Carolina, for a game that will be televised on WCCB-TV.