BUIES CREEK Observations from the Charlotte 49ers’ 33-9 season-opening victory Thursday against Campbell:
• The game couldn’t have gone more differently than the teams’ matchup to open the 2013 season, when Charlotte scored on the game’s second play and didn’t let up on the way to a 52-7 victory. This time, the 49ers had, as receiver Austin Duke put it, “early season jitters,” and were unable to put anything together offensively in the first half. Charlotte’s first offensive possession went like this: running back Kalif Phillips dropped for a 4-yard loss; quarterback Matt Johnson lucky not to have an incomplete pass called for a fumble as he’s hit releasing the ball; Campbell’s Alan Hart intercepting Johnson on third down.
Only a strong defensive effort (except for a long Camels drive at the end of the first half) and the leg of kicker Blake Brewer allowed the 49ers to lead 6-3 at halftime.
• There was plenty of attrition because of the heat and humidity, with several players from both teams suffering with cramps. That included Phillips, who punished Campbell on several runs during which he ran over tacklers. Phillips ended up with 70 yards on 13 carries and three touchdowns before leaving late in the third quarter with cramps.
• The game saw several school single-game records fall (although coach Brad Lambert joked afterward that some didn’t mean much since Charlotte has only had a team for one-plus seasons): The records included Brewer’s 50-yard field goal and a 62-yard reception by H-back Justin Bolus. Phillips’ three touchdowns tied his own single-game record.
• Big plays made the difference in the second half. Charlotte scored on drives that included a 38-yard catch by Duke and Bolus’ long catch-and-run. Freshman Maetron Thomas’ first touch of his college career resulted in a 40-yard touchdown run. Backup quarterback Lee McNeill had a 48-yard run in the fourth quarter.
• Special teams were a mixed bag. Brewer was excellent (he also made a 38-yard field goal). Freshman Arthur Hart averaged 35.0 yards on five punts (including a 52-yarder that rolled to the Campbell 1). But Hart also shanked his first punt, which only traveled 22 yards. Punt returner Corey Nesmith Jr. struggled for much of the game, muffing two catches (one recovered by Campbell) and getting hit instantly on two more. He did return one for 17 yards.
• Linebacker Nick Cook left the game in the first half with an ankle injury. Cook, a transfer from Butler (Kan.) Community College, first hurt the ankle chasing down Camels quarterback Dakota Wolf. After coming out of the game for a few plays, Cook re-injured it later in the second quarter and didn’t return. X-rays were negative on Cook’s ankle.
• Lambert was pleased with the performances of several second-string players, including linebacker Carrington King (in Cook’s place) and defensive backs Tre’Shun Wynn and Terrance Winchester.
• Next up is a home opener against Division II Johnson C. Smith on Sept. 6, the season opener for the Golden Bulls, who are touting the game as the “battle of the Queen City.” The 49ers, who split two games against Division II teams last season (beating Chowan, losing to UNC Pembroke) will have to deal with J.C. Smith’s Keahn Wallace, one of the CIAA’s top quarterbacks.