The second play of Middle Tennessee State’s second drive was a 76-yard touchdown pass. Less than two minutes later the Blue Raiders scored on a run of 62 yards. They added a 4-yard touchdown run and touchdown passes of 75, 9 and 35 yards.
And then the first quarter ended.
The Charlotte 49ers trailed 42-7 after one quarter last Saturday. Middle Tennessee State would amass 695 total yards and win 73-14.
The game was the first in Conference USA for the visiting 49ers. They play their conference home opener at 7 p.m. Saturday against Florida Atlantic.
“We just want to play this FAU game so we can stop thinking about Middle Tennessee,” says Charlotte middle linebacker Caleb Clayton-Molby. “It puts a bad taste in your mouth and you want to get rid of it. You can have the best practice, you can watch the most film. But to get rid of it you have to go out there and play.”
Charlotte opened the season with victories against Georgia State and Presbyterian. This is the 49ers’ third season, and they played smaller FCS schools in their first two.
This season they advanced to the FBS, and the FBS is different. The 49ers are the kid playing basketball against his dad in the driveway. Dad, however, is not going to let the kid win.
But does he have to score 73 points?
I sit with Clayton-Molby at the Judy W. Rose Football Center. His hair is long and so is his memory. Cornerbacks will tell you they have to forget about the last play, especially if it was a play on which they were beaten. Nobody forgets 73-14.
How did you handle the carnage during the game? Did you yell or stomp or break anything?
“Me being more like in the leader role on defense I try to keep everybody cool,” says Clayton-Molby, a senior. “When things get heated people tend to point fingers and yell and get mad. I try to be more calm and say this is what we need to do to fix it and it’s not going to get done by screaming and yelling at each other.”
After the game the locker room was what you’d think it would be – quiet. The game started at 7 p.m., and there was little talk on the flight back to Charlotte.
The 49ers were off Sunday. At about 3 p.m. Clayton-Molby went to a meeting room at the football center, sat by himself and watched game tape. He watched the game three times.
“It was very tough,” he says. “It was just frustrating. I like to learn, get rid of it and move on. So (watching tape) kind of prolonged it.”
Yet he couldn’t look away.
“I was really angry and tried to watch it without being angry,” Clayton-Molby says. “The hard part is that to get the best out of it you can’t watch with emotion. I’ve never been a part of a game like that ever and probably 90 percent of the guys on the team haven’t. That’s not why you play.
“I don’t think that we were outworked. Physically I don’t think we were outmatched too badly. We really beat ourselves. If you know anything about football you can tell that watching the game film.”
Clayton-Molby saw mental mistakes, players out of position and susceptible to giving up big plays.
Did you see anything that makes you think you compete in Conference USA?
“Yeah, we definitely can. There’s not a doubt in my mind we can,” Clayton-Molby says.
Mobley committed to Charlotte early in his second season at Georgia Military College. The plan was to play two seasons for the 49ers and move on. But he was injured last season after three games. He was given a second chance to be a senior.
“So playing in Conference USA is something I never thought of,” he says. “I wanted to come in here and try to lay a good foundation and play the best I can. My mother says ‘You’re not even supposed to be playing right now so you need to take every game as a blessing and make the best of it.’”
We forget how fast 49ers’ football has come together. When Clayton-Molby showed up on his recruiting visit Charlotte football was more concept than concrete.
“We were walking through the building we’re sitting in and it was nothing but a frame and dirt and I had a hard hat on,” he says. “They had a locker in a trailer and said, ‘This is the locker you’ll have.’”
Clayton-Molby is a smart guy. He didn’t anticipate 59-point losses. But he had to know that any new team would get knocked around no matter who it played.
Why put yourself through it?
“Putting that hard hat on I thought, ‘I can start this. I can be part of the story,” he says. “You know. When I’m 50 years old I can look back and say, ‘I was the first middle linebacker to play for Charlotte.’”