There might be a divergence of thought among Charlotte 49ers football coaches and players about the four-game losing streak the team will try to break Saturday against James Madison at Richardson Stadium.
The second-year 49ers (3-4), who had a bye last week, haven’t won since Sept. 13 against N.C. Central. Since then, they’ve lost four straight games by an average of 5.8 points. Three of them came down to the game’s last play.
“Being a start-up and building a new product, guys need to go through some growing pains,” said Charlotte offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. There are some valuable lessons you get by losing a few close games.”
Sitting next to Mullen at a Tuesday news conference was quarterback Matt Johnson, who was really having none of that.
“We don’t throw moral victories around,” Johnson said. “We’re not in this game to game to lose, but to win. It hurts to lose those last four the way we did. It’s about playing four quarters. You can look back to the first quarter and say, ‘If this, if that.’ ”
The 49ers, whose last game was a 53-46 double-overtime defeat at The Citadel on Oct. 11, practiced last week before taking the weekend off. The focus wasn’t on James Madison (4-3), but on themselves.
“It was a spring ball mentality,” said Mullen. “We were working on Charlotte, not our opponent.”
Said senior linebacker Tyler DeStefani: “Last week was good for our morale. We had fun at practice. Young guys who are normally on the scout team got to get in there and make plays. It was good for everybody.”
But it also let the 49ers think about what has gone wrong in those four losses, each of which were close enough that – except for a few bad plays here and there – could have been victories.
“Growing pains can be a good thing,” DeStefani said. “You can pick a play from each game. It might have been me not setting the edge on one play, or us just not running a play right. We’d like to be 7-0. But we’re young. We’re learning.”
The 49ers are still learning how to be a team. And that comes with players being more familiar with each other.
“Last year we came together as individuals,” Johnson said. “We didn’t really know each other to start this thing. We were just trying to make a home for ourselves. Now there’s more of a sense of brotherhood in the locker room. This year we’re trying to play together and to do it for the guy next to you.”
• Helen Lambert, the mother of 49ers coach Brad Lambert and grandmother of director of football operations Trevor Lambert, died early last Saturday morning. Brad Lambert and Trevor Lambert returned to Kansas to be with the family over the weekend and are expected to be back at practice Wednesday. The funeral for Mrs. Lambert was Tuesday in Palco, Kan.
• James Madison’s coach is Everett Withers, a Charlotte native who was North Carolina’s interim coach in 2011. Withers, who went to West Charlotte High and Appalachian State, was Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator in 2012 and ’13 before being hired at James Madison, where he replaced the fired Mickey Matthews.
• Dukes quarterback Vad Lee is also a recognizable name. Lee transferred from Georgia Tech to James Madison after playing two seasons for the Yellow Jackets. Lee, a redshirt junior, has completed 54.8 percent of his passes for 1,662 yards and 14 touchdowns (along with six interceptions). He’s also the Dukes’ leading rusher with 562 yards on 111 carries.
• The 49ers’ scheduled game at Virginia Tech in 2019 has been cancelled, a source confirmed to the Observer. The absence of the 49ers allowed the Hokies to make room on their schedule for a game against Notre Dame. The 49ers have games at Appalachian State and home against Massachusetts also scheduled for 2019.