Charlotte Fashions Hollywood Script for Football Debut, 52-7
By David Rogers. August 31, 2013. CHARLOTTE, NC -- UNC-Charlotte took big strides toward becoming a MAJOR university on Saturday. And oh, by the way, the 49'ers won their inaugural football game vs. the Campbell Camels, 52-7.
All photos by David Scearce for Blowing Rock News
From the green and white bunting with italicized "Charlotte 49ers" emblazoned across the face of what otherwise would be cold, grey concrete in the new Jerry Richardson Stadium, to the standing-room-only sellout crowd of 16,630, Charlotte did it right. What was once regarded as more of a public "commuter college" stepped into the higher education limelight in a way that only becoming a "football school in America" facilitates.
Yes, Charlotte did it right. They invested -- and for two years they prepared to get over the hump of institutional recognition at the expense of the Campbell Camels.
The atmosphere was electric and nothing was more important than seeing the enthusiasm with which the thousands of UNCC students embrace the arrival of football to their campus.
On the surface, it was laughable that those thousands poured over the stadium walls and raced onto the field to embrace the players and coaches as the final seconds ticked off the game clock, as if the 49ers had just won a BCS Championship game against the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide, or the powerful Southern California Trojans, or the perennially contending Oklahoma.Sooners.
But this game was more than that. The university gained a unifying identity that neither a faculty member's Nobel Prize nor even an NCAA "March Madness" basketball program can provide. Football arrived on Saturday at UNC-Charlotte, and things will never quite be the same for the school. In the end it is all about marketing and visibility to recruit not only the best athletes, but the best students -- as the High Country's Dr. Ken Peacock knows all too well after what happened to Appalachian State applications following the Mountaineers' 2007 upset at Michigan and back-to-back-to-back FCS national championships.
The atmosphere was electric.
And Then They Played Some Football
As for the football game on Saturday in Charlotte, it was Goliath defeating David. It was "major metro" Charlotte opening a can of "whoop-ass" against Buies Creek. It was a school with an enrollment of over 26,000 beating up on a school of less than 7,000.
But for a new football program wanting to inspire a winning tradition right from the get-go, it was just what the doctor ordered.
The 49ers unearthed football gold early and often vs. Campbell, an FCS-level Pioneer Football League opponent that put up a game, often hard-hitting fight. As 49er head coach Brad Lambert suggested to reporters afterwards, Hollywood could not have drafted a more appropriate script.
History, of course, was etched into the 49er football record books with just about every play from scrimmage producing a "first" -- the first tackle, the first first down, the first field goal, the first interception and, of course, the first touchdown.
Almost every play was a "first" for the record books.
Surely, only a Broadway imagination could have crafted a storyline in which UNCC's first TD would be scored NOT by an 87-yard scoring bomb wrested from the grasp of three defenders before outsprinting them to paydirt, but by the defense.
Yes, the honor of "first TD" fell to outside linebacker Mark Hogan, a Matthews, NC native who transferred from Georgia State (with a year of eligibility remaining) recently enough that his "bio" doesn't even appear in the Charlotte media guide. On the second play from scrimmage, Hogan reached up on tippy-toes at the Campbell 32-yard line and brought down -- intercepted -- the first pass of Camel QB Brian Hudson's 2013 season and the first pass ever to be thrown in a game on McColl-Richardson Field. Then of course the script should say that he returned it, untouched, to score the first TD in school history -- and he followed the script, perfectly.
Only 45 seconds had transpired in Charlotte football history, and the "niners" had already mined gold.
Not to be outdone in the "first" department, the 49er defense made sure their second defensive series went in the record books as a "three and out."
Less than seven minutes after the first score, receiver Justin Bolus and QB Matt Johnson combined for more history -- the first pass for a TD -- a perfectly executed one-yard square out to the right edge of the end zone. And just to put an exclamation point on the offense's first TD, Y-back C.J. Crawford ran the three yards over the left side for the school's first two-point conversion.
The onslought had begun. By the end of the first quarter on this hot and humid day in the Queen City, the home team led, 22-0.
Ironically, Campbell led, statistically, in two telling categories: Punts (they punted 8 times for 308 yards) and Time of Possession (they had the ball for 37 minutes and 26 seconds, vs. 22:34 for Charlotte). To be sure, the 49ers made the most of their possessions.
Other key statistical highlights included:
- Charlotte manufactured 488 yards of total offense, vs. holding Campbell to 287
- Charlotte was 5-5 in Red Zone opportunities, including three TDs and two field goals
- Charlotte special teams on punts (5) allowed no returns, including two fair catches inside the Campbell 20
- Charlotte and Campbell were about even in Yards Gained Rushing (215 vs. 212), but accounting for sacks and tackles for loss, Charlotte hed a 211-186 advantage
- The Matt Johnson-led Charlotte aerial attack netted 277 yards and 3 TDs, vs. 101 yards and no TDs for the Camels
- The 49er offensive line allowed only one sack by the Camel defense
- Redshirt senior WR Mikel Hunter led all receivers with 5 catches for 80 yards. When adding runs and return yards, the Georgia native and transfer from the Air Force accounted for a game-high 148 yards
- In addition to PATs, kicker Blake Brewer had a busy and productive day. He kicked off nine times for 562 yards, while also going 3-3 in booting field goals of 35, 20 and 40 yards
In his post-game press conference afterwards, assessed UNCC's debut by saying he was shocked for such a young team. "When they scored, it was the perfect beginning (for them)."
The significance of the day was not lost on Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert, who opened his post-game remarks by acknowledging, "It was a humbling experience out there with the crowd and the stadium...So many people put so much into this, and to see it on game day..."
With regard to his team's performance, Charlotte's first football head coach admitted, "I didn't know if (we) would win, but I knew (our players) would have fire...I really couldn't have written the outcome any better."
In recalling his interception and the school's first TD, Hogan confessed that he still had some pre-game jitters. "I don't remember making a (coverage) read or anything, I just dropped back and next thing I knew the ball was in my hands and I was running for the end zone.
"I am just proud of our defense," Hogan added. "We have a long way to go, but the moment that we experienced in Charlotte today is special."
Bolus, who caught the first TD pass in school history, told reporters afterward that a couple of his fellow players came up to him to say they were really happy that he got to be "that guy," adding, "It was crazy and it was fun."
QB Matt Johnson, the 6-3, 230-lb. redshirt freshman and Newton, NC native who played high school ball at Maiden, was quick to give credit to his offensive line and receivers, and admitted that Hogan's "pick" before he even got to touch the ball in an offensive series "...took a lot of pressure off my shoulders very early on...It was really hard to stay down (and play within himself) because everyone was so 'up' and excited...A lot of dreams came true today."
The next two games for the 49ers are also at home. On Sept. 7th they face tiny Chowan University from Murfreesboro, NC, then take on North Carolina Central on Sept. 14th. Both games are at 12:00 noon.
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