HARRISONBURG, Va. Saturdays game at 16th-ranked James Madison was a different experience for the Charlotte 49ers young football team. It was the first road game, first night game, first game played in a driving rain storm for one half, at least. In the end, Charlotte fell 34-7 for its second straight loss.
I challenged (the team) hard, coach Brad Lambert said. Youre talking about coming in and playing one of the great programs in (Football Championship Subdivision) football. We dont make excuses. We expect to win and we expect to play well.
The 49ers (2-2) did play well at times. But after taking an early 7-0 lead, they succumbed to James Madison, which that had more size, talent and experience at just about every position.
We played them toe-to-toe for a while, Lambert said. But their ability to run the ball was really good. Their defensive front gave us problems all night, the way they were rushing the passer.
In the end, it was a relatively easy night for James Madison (3-1). Running back DaeQuan Scott gashed Charlotte for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Michael Birdsong threw for 201 yards and a touchdown. The Dukes defense held Charlotte to 231 total yards.
But Charlotte also forced five James Madison turnovers, a statistic in which the 49ers lead the nation. And although the 49ers could only capitalize on one of them, they were enough to keep the game interesting for a while.
Charlotte scored its only touchdown after James Madisons Coby Branch fumbled the opening kickoff. The turnover was forced by Caleb Clayton-Molby and recovered by Ardy Holmes. The 49ers needed just two plays to score when quarterback Matt Johnson went in from 8 yards with 14 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
After the Dukes responded with a 9-yard touchdown run by Scott, it actually appeared the 49ers might make some kind of a game of it.
On their next possession, the 49ers drove to the Dukes 7. Johnson, who had thrown five interceptions in a 40-13 loss last week against N.C. Central, surprised the Dukes with his legs, running the ball five times to get Charlotte to that point.
But the 49ers got nothing from the drive when Johnson was stopped on a fourth-and-goal from the 1.
I thought wed have had a chance early if wed punched it in there, Lambert said.
The Dukes responded by driving 99 yards, with Scott scoring on a 20-yard run. That made it 14-7 and James Madison was ahead to stay.
lthough James Madison would turn it over four more times, the Dukes kept the 49ers at arms length the rest of the way.
Johnson ended up as the 49ers leading rusher with 51 yards on 21 carries. Ranked fifth nationally entering the game in passing yardage, he threw for just 98 yards and had one interception against the Dukes.
I saw Brad and I was getting on him about all the plays they ran the quarterback, said James Madison coach Mickey Matthews, a close friend of Lamberts. Those plays in the first quarter were plays they had not run all year. They totally changed their offense. Our whole week of preparation was wasted. We had to adjust on the sideline there.
The Dukes increased the lead to 20-7 with 37-yard pass from quarterback Michael Birdsong to Quintin Hunter with 6:17 left in the first half. That came after the 49ers Martay Mattox, a defensive back playing on offense, fumbled after taking a snap out of the Wildcat formation.
But that was the only real damage the four 49ers turnovers did.
Charlotte made us earn everything we got, Matthews said. They didnt give us anything.
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