The Charlotte 49ers’ first spring football game in history went to the Green. Behind a solid performance by Matt Johnson under center, the Green squad jumped out to an early 6-0 lead and never looked back en route to a 26-3 victory over the White squad in front of 13,950 fans at McColl-Richardson Field.
Charlotte had to have been encouraged by the turnout, the largest for an on-campus sporting event in school history. Johnson’s performance was encouraging as well, as the freshman was 13-14 for 174 yards and a touchdown. Granted, he was playing against his own defense, but numbers like that are why he’s the favorite to start on August 31.
And he didn’t waste any time, either. It only took the Green three plays on the opening drive to hit the scoreboard, capped by an 11-yard TD pass to Austin Duke. A missed PAT, though, by Hayden Pezzoni kept it at 6-0. Alan Barnwell found paydirt during the next Green drive on a three-yard run to make it 13-0, while Damarrell Alexander had a touchdown run for seven yards.
Stephen Muscarello and Pezzoni nailed a field goal each–both from 27–to round out the Green scoring. Muscarello, suiting up for both squads, hit a 32 yarder in the 4th for the White’s only points.
–The Green defense certainly looked good, holding the White to just one first down and nine yards rushing (just 56 yards of offense together). Devin Clegg (4) and Larry Ogunjobi (3) were the leading tacklers, while Rick LeGrant recorded the game’s lone sack. Terry Caldwell and Desmond Cooper each had interceptions. The White quarterback, Patrick O’Brien, struggled, going just 2-11 for 46 yards with two picks; he was also the victim of LeGrant’s sack.
–Green’s offense rolled to 322 total yards, led by Johnson’s day under center and 84 yards rushing (Alexander and Barnwell both splitting 36 of those and each recording a rushing score). Lee McNeill also saw time at QB for both sides and performed admirably (6-8, 64 yards). Austin Duke had a big day–four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown–and may have asserted himself as the #1 receiver for this team. Beyond that, Johnson did well to spread the ball around, as three other Green receivers had at least three catches.
–The White defense did have a strong moment in the 2nd quarter. With the Green at the White 3 yard line, the D was able to mount a goal line stand and force Green to turn it over on downs. It looks like in those goal to go opportunities from that close, Brad Lambert won’t be afraid to trust his offense to go for it if the situation calls for it, but it didn’t pay off this time. By the way, White was led by Brandon Rodriguez and Alex Petzke (7 tackles each); Tyler DeStefani and Kendal Parker had five each.
–Special teams struggled a bit to start but came around. Pezzoni, as mentioned, missed an XP after the initial Green touchdown, but he and Muscarello were perfect the rest of the way. We only saw two punts (both by White’s Brandon Strupp), for a combined 71 yards, so we definitely haven’t seen the punting game at full strength.
–Both quarterbacks showed that they weren’t afraid to use their feet to get yardage. Johnson had three carries for eight yards, while McNeill had three attempts for 20 yards.
–After the game, Lambert remarked on the crowd: “Just phenomenal, the people that came out today to watch us play. It was a real shot in the arm for our guys. To go out and play in front of a big crowd like that, it was a lot of fun for us. To see that crowd, it was a lot more than I expected.”
–Defensive line had suffered a blow coming in. Lambert mentioned that Kyle Taylor, normally a halfback, was moved to defensive line after Brandon Banks suffered a stress fracture. Understandably, D-line was a concern for the coach.
“We’re thin there….We have to get Brandon back. We’re adding a junior college player and a couple of high school kids. That will add some depth there that will help us going forward. That’s always your issue when you’re a coach. You’re worried about your D-line all the time.
“The good thing is we have some young guys like Devin Clegg who has had a really good fall and spring….I’m proud of him. He’s come in and done a good job. Hopefully he can take the next step for us as well.”
–Lambert laid out the plan for the next few months as practices have concluded for the season. “We’ll bring everybody back July 1 for our summer conditioning program and then start our preseason camp August 1. We get 29 practices before the first game. These guys will finish up their academics, get through finals and then come back July 1 to start summer school and conditioning.”