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First Charlotte 49ers spring game attracts 13,950 fans

By Jonathan Jones
jjones@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte 49ers nose tackle Larry Ogunjobi didn’t see many fans in their seats at McColl-Richardson Stadium when the team took the field for warm-ups.

So when they exited the locker room and waited in the tunnel to rush out for the team’s first spring football game, he thought the crowd noise was being piped in over the speakers.

He and the rest of the Charlotte football team saw an announced crowd of 13,950 in the stadium – which holds 15,300 – for the program’s spring game, a 26-3 victory for the Green squad.

“Normally I think I’d be thinking about coming out and seeing all those people but I was more worried about completing that first pass,” quarterback Matt Johnson said. “I was like, I need him right between the eyes with this ball because if not it’s going to look bad. It was pretty much all I was thinking about.”

Johnson, the team’s first-string quarterback, finished 13 of 14 for 174 yards and one touchdown.

It took three plays and less than two minutes on a running game clock for the green team to go 65 yards for the first score of the game. Johnson connected with C.J. Crawford for a 47-yard gain on the first play. A minute later Johnson hit Austin Duke on an inside slant for an 11-yard touchdown.

The no-huddle spread offense churned out another quick drive for the Green, going 80 yards in five minutes that included another Johnson-to-Duke connection for 39 yards. The Green, which had both the first-string offense and defense, led 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.

“I would prefer to have a draft and split the coaches, but we just couldn’t do it because of our (defensive) line situation,” Lambert said. “We lost (defensive end) Brandon Banks few weeks ago with a stress fracture. That threw us behind… That was the primary reason. That’s what I would prefer to do and hopefully next year I can do that.”

Lambert had to move H-back Kyle Taylor to defensive line because of depth issues, which showed for the White team. The second-stringers totaled 56 yards of total offense on 20 plays, and White team quarterback Patrick O’Brien went 2 for 11 for 46 yards and two interceptions.

But the White still had highlights despite the small numbers. A host of tacklers stopped running back Demarrell Alexander at the goal line on a 4th-and-3 with less than three minutes remaining in the second quarter.

In the fourth quarter with his team trailing 23-0, O’Brien found Darius Smalls for a 46-yard pickup to get the White inside the red zone. Stephen Muscarello capped the drive with a 32-yard field goal.

Muscarello and fellow kicker Hayden Pezzoni combined to go 2 for 2 on field goals and 2 for 3 on extra points.

“For me, personally, I really wanted to see the kickers and punters execute with people in the stands,” Lambert said. “I was really confident in our offense and defense. They’ve been doing a good job and I knew they’d be a little amped up today with all the people... That was a critical thing because (the kickers) don’t get in those situations.”

Both the team and the administration tried to set up Saturday’s scrimmage to simulate a fall game. The team plays host to Campbell on Aug. 31, and the spring game was like a dry run.

The school charged for tickets and coordinated parking lot zones. The team went to the hotel on Saturday morning, ate breakfast, attended chapel and watched a pregame highlight tape.

“We tried to set it up for them so they would get that feel of, ‘Hey, this is what it’s going to be like on Aug. 31,” Lambert said.

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