CLINTON, S.C. Quarterback Matt Johnson could tell there was something different about his Charlotte 49ers teammates last week.
Coming off a second consecutive loss, Johnson felt a sense of purpose from the 49ers as they began their week of preparation for Saturday’s game at Presbyterian.
“Monday morning, with how we started studying film, started practice, everything we do, it was amazing to see,” Johnson said after the 49ers beat the Blue Hose 45-21 at Bailey Memorial Stadium. “We had to get back to the basics, and that’s what we did.”
After opening the first football season in school history with victories against overmatched Campbell and Chowan, the 49ers were outclassed in successive losses against established FCS programs N.C. Central and James Madison.
Charlotte (3-2) was able to bounce back with authority against the Big South’s Blue Hose (1-3). Spotting Presbyterian an early lead, the 49ers scored 38 unanswered points during one stretch.
The 49ers got a balanced attack (rushing for a season-high 236 yards, passing for 269) on their way to 505 total yards. Johnson completed 15 of 24 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown, a 53-yarder to Mikel Hunter during a second quarter in which Charlotte outscored Presbyterian 21-0.
Charlotte’s rushing attack, with Alan Barnwell (88 yards, one touchdown) and Kalif Phillips (79 yards, two scores) leading the way, wore down a Blue Hose defense that struggled to keep up with the 49ers’ spread, no-huddle offense.
“A lot of that was our offensive line,” Lambert said. “I think our strength program really showed today.”
After trailing 14-7 midway through the first quarter, the 49ers shut down the Blue Hose the rest of the way, scoring 38 consecutive points during one stretch and setting up a game against 25th-ranked Gardner-Webb next Saturday at Richardson Field.
The 49ers, who entered the game leading the FCS in forced turnovers, intercepted Blue Hose quarterback Kaleb Griffin twice. But unlike a week ago when Charlotte was unable to convert four of James Madison’s five turnovers into points, the 49ers capitalized both times against the Blue Hose.
The 49ers couldn’t solve Presbyterian’s offense early. The Blue Hose scored the first two times it had the ball, getting a quarterback sneak by Kaleb Griffin and a 1-yard run by DeMarcus Rouse to go ahead 14-7 with 50 seconds left in the first quarter.
“The mistakes we were making were all on our end,” said 49ers secondary coach James Adams. “Formation recognition, being physical at the point of contact, all things we control. They weren’t doing anything special; it was nothing we hadn’t seen before. We just needed to play our game: tough, physical, fast football.”
When the 49ers defense did that, the game turned.
Charlotte tied it on their next possession on a 1-yard run by Phillips with 14:14 left in the half. Those would be the first those 38 consecutive points Charlotte would score.
The 49ers scored three times in the second quarter, adding to Phillips’ touchdown with a 1-yard run by Barnwell and Johnson’s 53-yard scoring pass to Hunter.
That made it 28-14 at halftime. Two third-quarter interceptions – by Desmond Cooper and Tank Norman – led to two touchdowns and the rout was all but complete.
“It feels great to being a ‘W’ back to Charlotte,” Cooper said. “It’s been a rough couple of weeks. I don’t think we ever lacked confidence. But this is a young team that’s still learning that when things are down, you’ve got to keep pace. Keep playing your game, and momentum is back on your side.”
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