By Jim Brumm

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) - A charter bus filled with junior college football players heading to a game crashed on an interstate highway in North Carolina on Saturday, killing four people on board and injuring more than 40 others, the state highway patrol said.

The bus struck a bridge abutment on Interstate 74 near the town of Rockingham, about 70 miles east of Charlotte near the South Carolina border, in an accident triggered by a tire blowout on the vehicle, the state police said in a statement.

The tire failure sent the bus swerving into the highway median before it side-swiped a column supporting an overpass, crushing and ripping open the driver's side of the motor coach, the highway patrol said.

It said investigators confirmed that four occupants of the bus died and 42 were transported to four area hospitals with injuries ranging from critical to minor.

The bus was carrying a squad of community college football players from South Carolina to Fayetteville, North Carolina, for a game against a rival team there, school officials and police said.

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Toby Chopra)