Charlotte beats Campbell 52-7 in inaugural game
Even a third quarter downpour couldn't dampen the enthusiasm for the Charlotte 49ers Saturday at Jerry Richardson Stadium — certainly not after an eight-year wait to get a football team.
Charlotte's football debut couldn't have gone much better as the 49ers defeated the Campbell Fighting Camels 52-7 in their inaugural game before a standing-room only crowd of 16,630.
The new stadium holds 15,314.
Freshman quarterback Matt Johnson threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns as the 49ers jumped out to a 32-0 second quarter lead and never looked back.
"I really couldn't have written it out any better," coach Brad Lambert said of the school's first win.
Feeding off a football-hungry crowd clad in green "49" jerseys, it didn't take long for the 49ers to grab the momentum.
On the second play from scrimmage, linebacker Mark Hogan stepped in front of a pass in the flat and returned it 32 yards for the school's historic first touchdown.
Athletic director Judy Rose, who led the drive to bring football to Charlotte, said she was in the tunnel after escorting Richardson — the owner of the NFL's Carolina Panthers for whom the stadium is named after — former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl, former trustee Mac Everett and Gov. Pat McCrory off the field following the ceremonial opening coin toss when the first score came.
"Can you believe that?" Rose said with a laugh. "I missed the first touchdown — the inaugural touchdown. One of my friends turned to me and said, 'That's OK Judy, you're going to see it 10 times tonight on the (television) highlights.'"
Rose said it was an emotional week and she was brought to tears when she arrived on campus Saturday and saw thousands of fans tailgating outside the stadium.
"It was like, 'This is it. It's finally here,'" Rose said.
The 49ers will play the first two seasons as an FCS Independent before moving to the FBS level and Conference USA in 2015.
Marlon Lefevre, 53, of Charlotte, is one of the many 49ers alumni overjoyed about the arrival of football.
"We've wanted football for decades and you wondered if it would ever happen," said Lefevre, a 1985 graduate. "It's an atmosphere unlike anything I've ever seen here on campus. This always had the reputation as a commuter school, but I think football has really brought community to this campus."
As coach Brad Lambert promised, the 49ers played an up-tempo no-huddle offense — one Campbell simply couldn't keep up with.
Charlotte outgained Campbell 488 to 277.
Charlotte's offense scored the first time it touched the ball with Johnson completing a 1-yard touchdown pass to Justin Bolus, followed by a 2-point conversion run by C.J. Crawford to give the 49ers a 15-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
By halftime the 49ers had extended their lead to 35-7, pushing the celebration into high gear.
After the game Lambert was doused in green Gatorade and students rushed the field to celebrate with players, who remained on the field to savor the moment. They chanted "Forty Niners" while jumping up and down around the players.
Lambert called it an "emotional" and "humbling" day.
"I was excited for our kids to have a chance to run out of the tunnel and see the excitement," Lambert said. "It speaks to all of the work that had been done from the top down. There are so many people who had put so much into it and to see it right there on game day was humbling to me to see how much it meant to everybody."
Hogan was a part of Georgia State's startup program three years ago before transferring to Charlotte, but said this was extra special.
"The moment we experienced today, for everyone in Charlotte, it was special," Hogan said. "... It's awesome to see everyone out here supporting us, people who had been waiting so long and sacrificed so much to see Charlotte 49ers football."
The win came at the expense of Mike Minter, Campbell's first-year coach who played 10 seasons in Charlotte with the NFL's Panthers.
Minter, who had expressed a desire for the Charlotte job when it came available, said despite the loss "it was a moment I'll remember for a long time."