By Jerry Briggs
Knocked out of bowl contention last weekend, the Charlotte 49ers will play the role of spoilers when they kick off against UTSA in the regular-season finale for both teams on Saturday night at the Alamodome.
On the other hand, the Roadrunners (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) can become bowl eligible for the first time with a victory.
“It’s a big week because everything rides on this game,” UTSA senior safety Michael Egwuagu said. “If you think about it from a senior perspective, if you lose this game, you’re done with your college career.
“If you win this game, you have another game (in the bowl), which, honestly, would be the biggest game of your career -- the first bowl game in UTSA history -- so it adds a little more ‘umphh.’ “
The 49ers (4-7, 3-4) will want to wreck the party plans. Egwuagu said he is sure of it.
“We’re going to be giving it all we’ve got, trying to get there, and they’re going to be giving it all they’ve got, trying to stop us” Egwuagu said. “Because, honestly, there’s nothing more sweet that ruining someone’s bowl eligibility … If I was in Charlotte’s position, that would be my motivation.”
In only their fourth year as a program, Charlotte lost its opener 70-14 at Louisville en route to a 1-4 start. The 49ers have since forged a 3-3 record, losing two games in that stretch by one point. Last weekend, they fell behind by 18 and rallied to tie the game, only to lose 38-31 at home to Middle Tennessee.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Hasaan Klugh is the spark. Klugh has passed for nine touchdowns and has rushed for eight. Total yardage totals are also impressive, with Klugh accounting for 1,646 yards, including 1,210 passing. He averages 5.1 yards per carry. Kalif Phillips leads Charlotte in rushing with 895 yards and four touchdowns.
On defense, the 49ers like to try to create turnovers. Charlotte has picked off 16 passes this year, including three each by cornerbacks Tarrance Winchester and Kedrick Davis and safety Ed Rolle. Senior linebacker Nick Cook leads with 98 tackles.
“They’re a very good football team that is thriving,” UTSA coach Frank Wilson said. “They’re doing a good job.”
Holiday plans: UTSA players will eat a holiday lunch of turkey and dressing and all the trimmings on campus on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. For those who live too far away to travel home, they will be invited out to coaches’ houses. Wilson promised “the flavor of New Orleans” at his home. He said the best dish served will be the gumbo. He said it would have a variety of shrimp and meats. “But no weiners,” he said.
Jarveon’s future: Senior running back Jarveon Williams will play his last game at the dome for UTSA this weekend. But his coach raised the possibility that Williams could be back one day – as a coach for the Roadrunners. “He’s a joy to be around,” Wilson said. “He’s a joy to coach. And I hope, one day, he’s a guy that you would want to come back and put on your coaching staff. He means that much to us.”
Harrowing year: It’s been a harrowing year for Egwuagu, one of UTSA’s stalwarts on defense. He said he underwent surgery after last season to have one of his kidneys removed, forcing him to sit out spring workouts. He hasn’t missed a game this fall, but he has battled through a sports hernia that has bothered him since the week before the season opener.
Starting from scratch: Charlotte is in its fourth year as a program and UTSA is in its sixth. They are the two youngest start-ups in the Football Bowl Subdivision. If UTSA wins, the Roadrunners would tie the modern-day record for fastest rise from its first season on the field to a postseason bowl game – six years. South Alabama (in 2014) and Georgia State (last year) are the other two teams to make a bowl game after only six years.