N.C. Central welcomed Charlotte back to earth with a 40-13 college football victory Saturday against the error-prone 49ers in front of a crowd of 16,630 at Richardson Stadium.
In losing for the first time in their inaugural season, the 49ers (2-1) gave the Eagles (2-1) plenty of help, turning the ball over seven times (five coming on interceptions thrown by quarterback Matt Johnson).
"We flipped the script from what weve been doing," said 49ers coach Brad Lambert, whose team had won its first two games against Campbell and Chowan by a total of 99-14. "We made just too many mistakes. Those plays will break your back."
Charlotte, which trailed 13-0 at halftime, lost momentum for a comeback when N.C. Centrals Adrian Wilkins returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
It doesnt get any easier in fact, it becomes far tougher for the 49ers next Saturday when they travel to Harrisonburg, Va., to play 17th-ranked James Madison.
Charlotte outgained N.C. Central 533-385 in total yardage and ran 106 offensive plays. The 49ers had 31 first downs to the Eagles 15.
But the 49ers otherwise did themselves no favors against the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conferences Eagles, a program playing its fourth season in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Johnson, who feasted on the defenses of nonscholarship Campbell and Division II Chowan, completed 35-of-52 passes for 335 yards against N.C. Central. But Charlotte couldnt overcome those five interceptions.
The 49ers special teams allowed Wilkins return for a TD to open the second half, had a field goal blocked and missed an extra point.
And, with the score still close in the first half, Eagles quarterback Jordan Reid escaped trouble on several occasions to keep N.C. Central drives alive.
"We knew he was quick and could bounce around a little bit," 49ers linebacker Mark Hogan said of Reid, a fifth-year senior who threw for 178 yards and ran for 29. "He gets out of the pocket, finds somebody downfield and that puts stress on the defense."
The 49ers had several chances to place that stress on the Eagles in the first half, but turnovers and mistakes kept getting in the way. Trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, Johnson drove the 49ers to the Eagles 19, but had to settle for a 36-yard field goal attempt by Blake Brewer.
N.C. Centrals Ryan Smith blocked the kick, however. Then, on the ensuing possession, the Eagles Shaheed Swinson fumbled, with Charlottes Terry Caldwell recovering at the 19.
But the 49ers couldnt take advantage, when Alan Barnwell fumbled and N.C. Centrals Demontray Ryland scooped the ball up and returned it 50 yards to the 49ers 22.
That led to another Oleg Parent field goal (making it 6-0 with 2 minutes, 9 seconds left in the first quarter). Then came the start of Johnsons problems.
Johnson threw two interceptions in the second quarter, one in the end zone to Tim Thaniel, the other by Michael Jones.
"There were some missed assignments, by me and others," said Johnson. "Ive got to keep the ball on our side of the field."
Jones interception led to the Eagles only touchdown of the first half and they held a 13-0 advantage at halftime.
Any chance of a 49ers comeback was snuffed out when Wilkins took the second-half kickoff the length of the field.
"That took a little wind out of us," said Charlotte safety Desmond Cooper. "But we still had the rest of the half to play."
But the 49ers couldnt stay out of their own way. Johnson threw three more interceptions. Charlotte lost another fumble in the fourth quarter.
"Central was pretty good," said Lambert. "That was another level of competition for us. Youve got to give them credit."
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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