Slow start hands Niners home loss to Georgia State

Charlotte 49ers head coach Biff Poggi not happy with his team as they fell behind 17-0 on their...
Charlotte 49ers head coach Biff Poggi not happy with his team as they fell behind 17-0 on their way to a 41-25 loss to Georgia State.(WBTV)
Published: Sep. 16, 2023 at 11:17 PM CDT
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Press release provided by Charlotte 49ers Athletics

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Charlotte fought back from an early 17-0 deficit but Georgia State generated enough big plays to ward off the Niners, 41-25, Saturday evening at Jerry Richardson Stadium.

“I thought, obviously, tonight would go a lot better than it did,” said Head Coach Biff Poggi. “I’m the head coach. This falls squarely on me... Look, the buck stops with me. It really does. I’m going to change my approach going forward.”

Trailing 34-10 with 3:54 remaining in the third quarter, Charlotte stormed back into the game with a pair of big plays to cut the deficit to 35-24. First, Jalon Jones took an option 58 yards, breaking three tackle attempts and tiptoeing down the left sideline for a score. After a three-and-out that ended on an intentional grounding forced when Wayne Jones and Demetrius Knight both broke into the backfield, Henry Rutledge bounced off a defender and returned a punt 46 yards for a touchdown, becoming the first Niner in school history to return a punt for a touchdown.

Trexler Ivey finished with career-high totals of 20-of-28 completions for 257 yards and a touchdown with Jack Hestera finishing as the leading receiver with seven receptions for 109 yards and a score, also career-highs. On the ground, starting QB Jalon Jones finished with a game-high and season-high 80 yards rushing. As a team, the Niners’ 356 total yards of offense is a new season-high for 2023.

However, Charlotte surrendered 461 yards through the air. The Panthers completed three passes of at least 59 yards, including touchdowns of 78 and 97 yards. Georgia State also was able to stay on the field, converting 9-of-15 on the third down.

“I’d rather go back to where everybody in the world knows what we’re going to run on offense and defense but we can execute it,” said Poggi. “I am not going to sleep much. I am going to put on the film... and find out what we do best and do it.”


Down 24 points and starting the drive at their own 12-yard line, Rutledge ripped off a pair of first-down runs for a total of 30 yards before Jones’ touchdown run, which was the longest play of the season for Charlotte. Jones and the Niners converted the two-point attempt on a shuffle pass to Colin Weber. On the ensuing Georgia State drive, Charlotte forced its third three-and-out of the game after Knight II and Jones forced an intentional grounding call. The Panthers punted from deep inside their own territory and Rutledge etched his name into Charlotte history with the 46-yard return. Penalties resulted in the Green & White attempting and making a point-after try instead of going for a two-point conversion.


Charlotte scored on consecutive drives at the end of the second quarter to cut the deficit to 17-10 before entering halftime down 20-10.

With two minutes left in the first half, Jairus Mack had a field-flipping punt return of 26 yards, giving Charlotte its start at the Panthers’ 42-yard line. In the drive, the Niners converted a fourth-and-three on an Ivey completion to Duane Thomas Jr. and Hestera drew a defensive pass interference before finding paydirt with a five-yard touchdown from Ivey.

On the previous drive, a 30-yard Kyle Cunanan field goal was set up by a big 37-yard Ivey-Hestera connection, which put the Niners in the redzone and was the team’s longest play of the half.


Georgia State’s first touchdown was the result of a Charlotte turnover-on-downs that gave the Panthers great field position at the Niners’ 44-yard line. Charlotte could not convert on fourth-and-one in its first drive. Then, immediately following a Niners interception, the Panthers completed the 97-yard touchdown to extend their lead to 17-0. Georgia State also scored touchdowns on consecutive drives to start the second half, resulting in the 34-10 score. The Panthers added a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the only score by either team in the 15-minute frame.


Bryce Kennon added four catches for 61 yards, all career-high marks for the junior.

Hestera’s 109 receiving yards gives Charlotte its second consecutive 100-yard receiver after Mack had 106 yards against Maryland last week.

Senior Grant Gonya contributed to the Niners’ winning the special teams battle, launching four punts for 195 yards, an average of 48.8 yards.

“As players, we got to look in ourselves and just dig deeper, our coaches put us in a position during the week to execute a good game plan and we got to come out on Saturdays with the same intensity that we have in practice and just carry that over from what we do Monday through Friday,” said quarterback Jones.

Prince Bemah led Charlotte with nine total tackles and Miguel Jackson turned in eight total tackles and a team-high two stops for a loss and a sack. Dontae Balfour’s six solo tackles were a team-high and also a career-high for the sophomore.


At halftime, Charlotte introduced its 10 newest Hall of Fame inductees from the Class of 2022– Paula Bennett, Byron Dinkins, Gene & Vickie Johnson, Jeff Mullins, and Henry Williams, Jr. and the Class of 2023– Ike Belk, DeMarco Johnson, Bobby Lutz, Lindsey Ozimek, and Bo Robinson.


Charlotte travels to the University of Florida, Saturday Sept. 23 for the final non-conference game of the season. The game is set for 7 p.m.