KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee opened the month of November with a win, topping the Charlotte 49ers 14-3 Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium. It was the fifth-straight Homecoming win for the Volunteers and 73rd overall on the occasion since 1916.
“I was really proud of the way our guys found a way to get a win,” head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “At the end of the day, that’s what you’re trying to do. I thought defensively we limited some explosive plays, and we kind of made them earn it, so that helped us.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jarrett Guarantano paced the Tennessee passing game with 172 yards on 16-of-21 attempts and a touchdown. Sophomore wideout Josh Palmer and junior tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson led the receiving corps with 71 and 53 yards through the air, respectively.
Junior receiver Marquez Callaway opened the scoring with a flash, housing a Charlotte punt 82 yards down the right sideline to put the Vols ahead 7-0 with 7:42 remaining in the first quarter. It was the first punt return touchdown for UT since Callaway accomplished the feat with a 62-yard dash against Tennessee Tech on Nov. 5, 2016.
“We did find a way to create a positive play on special teams, which probably was the difference in the ball game, so I’m glad we had the opportunity to do that,” Pruitt said. “Marquez made a good run, and I thought we had some good blocks out there.”
Tennessee (4-5, 1-3 SEC) doubled its advantage on a 16-yard scoring connection from Guarantano to Palmer, taking a 14-0 lead with 0:17 left in the opening frame. Guarantano totaled 61 passing yards on the drive, including a 33-yard completion to Wood-Anderson that set the Vols up in the red zone.
Charlotte (4-5, 3-2 C-USA) broke up the shutout late in the first half with a 20-yard field goal off the foot of rookie placekicker Jonathan Cruz. The kick capped off a 12-play, 87-yard drive for the 49ers to make the score 14-3 with 0:17 on the clock in the second quarter.
Neither team added points in the second half, as both sides were unable to eclipse 100 yards over the last 30 minutes of action. The Vols out-gained the 49ers 99-87 in the third and fourth quarters.
Freshman defensive back Bryce Thompson forced the lone turnover of the game, intercepting Charlotte’s Evan Shirreffs and downing the ball with 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter to seal the Tennessee victory.
Junior linebacker Daniel Bituli racked up a season-high 13 tackles to lead all players, while senior defensive lineman Kyle Phillips added a pair of tackles for loss and a couple of pass breakups.
UP NEXT: Tennessee welcomes SEC East rival No. 11 Kentucky to Neyland Stadium for the 114th meeting between the programs next week. Kickoff time/TV network will be determined later.