Blue Raiders fall 42-39 at Charlotte

MTSU's Jimmy Marshall heads for the end one against Charlotte on Friday night. MTSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Despite a sterling first career start from redshirt junior quarterback Chase Cunningham, the MTSU Blue Raiders could not slow down Charlotte in the Queen City on Friday night, falling to the 49ers 42-39 in MTSU's second C-USA matchup.

After giving up a touchdown on Charlotte's opening drive, MTSU struck back with a methodical 75-yard drive, capped off by a seven yard touchdown pass from Chase Cunningham to Jimmy Marshall. Marshall was left wide open out of the h-back slot and Cunningham slipped the pass over the rushing lineman for an easy six points for the Blue Raiders. Zeke Rankin's PAT was good to tie the game 7-7.

Jaylin Lane kept the good thing going on the next drive, concentrating through tight coverage to catch the pass off the bobble and score MTSU's second touchdown. The 24-yard toss tied the game. Rankin converted the Blue Raiders' first field goal attempt of the season from 26 yards out to give MTSU its first lead of the game.

The 17-14 advantage would hold going into the half. The Blue Raiders outgained Charlotte 239-192 yard in the first 30 minutes, holding a 141-129 yard advantage in the air and a 98-63 yard advantage on the ground. Cunningham led all passers and rushers, going 12-17 for 141 yards passing, plus tacking on 56 rushing yards on seven attempts.

Jorden Starling kept the 49ers off the board to open the second half, tipping Charlotte's 35-yard field goal attempt at the line to force the kick wide left.

After another Charlotte touchdown catch, the Blue Raiders responded quickly, driving 75-yards in just 48 seconds, capped off by a 51-yard touchdown catch from DJ England-Chisolm, who got over the top of man coverage with his burners to scamper in for the score to put MTSU up 24-21.

Charlotte scored 14 unanswered points to pull away in the second half, taking a 35-24 lead. But a circus catch through tight coverage from Jarrin Pierce gave Chase Cunningham his fourth touchdown of the evening and pulled the Blue Raiders within a field goal after his two-point conversion pass was complete to Lane.

The 49ers then drove down and converted a fourth down on the goaline to score their sixth touchdown of the night to take a 42-32 lead. Cunningham and the MTSU offense responded quickly, driving 75-yards in just 1:48 to pull within three at 42-39 when Cunningham connected with Yusuf Ali for his fifth touchdown pass of the night. But the ensuing onside kick was recovered by Charlotte to ice the game.

Cunningham finished his first career start going 28-for-40 for 379 yards, tossing five touchdowns to five different Blue Raider receivers. He also led the team in rushing with 65 yards on the ground. Pierce was Cunningham's top target on the evening, hauling in a season-best 10 receptions for 92 yards and a score. Reed Blankenship broke the all-time tackle record at MTSU behind a team-leading 13 total stops on the night. The senior safety also broke up a pass and forced a fumble.