Give Charlotte football coach Brad Lambert this: he fully understands the challenge his team faces Saturday when the 49ers play host to Appalachian State at Richardson Stadium.
“They’re one of the great programs in all college football,” Lambert said of the Mountaineers. “We know what’s coming here and we’ve got to be ready. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
The 49ers (1-0) and Mountaineers (0-1) are playing for the first time and will again next season in Boone.
Charlotte’s program is in its sixth season of existence, quickly moving into the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Conference USA in 2015.
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The Mountaineers, long a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly 1-AA) power before moving in 2015 to the FBS, where they’ve barely missed a beat. Appalachian has won bowls in each of their three seasons in the Sun Belt.
Then there’s this: over their last 46 games, the Mountaineers have gone 36-10. Only Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Oklahoma have fared better during that stretch.
“App is a proven program; we’re just getting started,” Lambert said. “We’re going to have to execute well and make plays to make it a good ball game. Because it’s a situation where we’re so new and they’ve established their program through the years.”
The 49ers and Mountaineers also recruit against each other, often in the territory in and around Mecklenburg County. Charlotte’s roster features 13 players from Mecklenburg; Appalachian’s has seven. The 49ers have 16 players from counties adjacent to Mecklenburg; Appalachian has five.
That will lead to some familiar faces on both sides of the line of scrimmage Saturday.
Charlotte junior running back Benny LeMay and Mountaineers junior cornerback Clifton Duck were teammates at Butler High.
“I know a lot of players over at App State,” said LeMay, who rushed for 135 yards and had 83 receiving yards in a 34-10 season-opening victory last Saturday against Fordham. “I grew up with Clifton Duck. He’s a guy I always played with, so it will be fun to play against him. We’ve always played together, so this will be different.”
Duck, the Sun Belt’s preseason defensive player of the year who has 11 career interceptions, had seven tackles and broke up a pass in the Mountaineers’ 45-38 overtime loss at Penn State. It was part of a near-miss performance against the Nittany Lions that impressed Lambert.
“I’m not sure anything made them uncomfortable,” Lambert said. “They seemed pretty comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. They’re a fast team — more at tailback (Jalin Moore) and wideout (Corey Sutton and Thomas Hennigan). But their secondary’s fast. Their corners are fast. That’s going to be the thing. They’re a pretty physical team that can run.”
That’s what 49ers players like sophomore defensive tackle Timmy Horne are preparing for.
“The stadium’s going to be rocking,” said Horne. “The players are going to be geeked up.”