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At times, it was frustrating. At times, it felt maddening. At times, it was confusing.
In the end, though, UAB head coach Bryant Vincent said his team’s 34-20 Conference USA victory over Charlotte on Saturday at Protective Stadium just might be exactly what his team needed.
“We want to come out here and play clean, I promise you,” Vincent said. “When it doesn’t work how you want it to, how does your team respond? That’s a big deal. We know moving forward, every game is a championship game. There is going to be adversity. There is going to be tough plays or plays that aren’t executed as well as you want. But it’s the response. That’s good to see. We needed that to see where we’re at.”
Adversity started on the first play when UAB quarterback Dylan Hopkins forced a throw deep down the field, trying to hit Trea Shropshire for a big play right away for the second consecutive game, and it was intercepted.
Hopkins finished 15 of 23 for 231 yards with a touchdown, carried the ball for 103 yards and finally put the 49ers to bed with a 61-yard touchdown sprint down the sideline to give the Blazers (4-2 overall, 2-1 C-USA) a 14-point lead with 1:01 remaining.
The UAB secondary busted a coverage and Charlotte (1-6 overall, 0-3 C-USA) turned it into a seven-point mistake on a 60-yard pass from Chris Reynolds to Elijah Spencer on the 49ers’ opening possession.
The secondary’s response?
Safety Grayson Cash had an interception on Charlotte’s first play of the second half and another on the final play of the second half. Safety Jaylen Key ended a promising second half drive by the 49ers by punching the football loose and fellow safety Will Boler recovered the fumble.
UAB trailed 14-10 at halftime and didn’t take its first lead of the game until late in the third quarter on a magnificent catch in the end zone by Tejhaun Palmer to complete an 9-yard scoring play. A two-point run failed, but the Blazers had a 19-14 lead with 2:15 left in the third quarter. It didn’t last long. Charlotte moved 75 yards on six plays and grabbed the lead back on a 1-yard run by Shadrick Byrd with 14:56 left in the game.
How did UAB respond to being behind after fighting so hard to take the lead?
The Blazers put together a quick six-play, 81-yard drive that took just 2:25 off the clock and culminated in a 13-yard scoring run by DeWayne McBride, who finished with a hard-fought 137 yards on 29 carries. The drive started with a 23-yard run by McBride, his longest carry of the day, and included a beautiful diving catch by Fred Farrier to complete a 15-yard gain.
“The thing that really stuck out to me this game, is there were a lot of momentum swings, there was a lot of adversity, we had turnovers, we got behind and we didn’t blink,” Vincent said. “Our sideline was steady, players were steady, it was positive. If you’ve been in this business long enough, they’re not all going to be easy. It comes down to the character of your team and really the leadership of your team. You’re going to have momentum swings, you’re going to have bad plays.”
There were plenty of positive things also. UAB gained more than 500 yards for the second consecutive game, amassing 510 yards on 76 plays. They achieved balanced with 279 yards rushing and 231 yards passing. Defensively, there was some bend, allowing 327 yards, but they made plays at critical times.
“The first half, we just gave up too many big plays,” Cash said. “Coaches were telling us at halftime we got to make something happen on defense, it’s one of those games. We didn’t at all in the first half. That was definitely an emphasis in the second half to steal some drives and get momentum back on our side.”
Ultimately, it helped the Blazers improve to 4-0 at Protective Stadium.
“I thought the leadership on this football team was great, throughout all the adversity,” Vincent said. “The toughness, the perseverance and the character of this football team, I thought really showed in the second half in how we came together and we fed off each other.”
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