UNC Charlotte officially has a football team. The 49ers started their legacy with a 52-7 trouncing of the Campbell Camels on Saturday. The score was the cherry on top for fans just glad to have a team.
UNC Charlotte’s chancellor Philip Dubois has repeatedly said his team was going to win its first game 49-0, but probably was not the general expectation for a team composed primarily of players who have never played a college game.
“No one’s really necessarily focused on us winning. [We’re] just ready to take a snap,” UNC Charlotte junior Jessie Starnes said before the game. “We’re just ready to frickin play. I’m super excited. It’s going to be awesome.”
Starnes was tail-gating with dozens of other students and alums, in a campus parking lot. Her father Brian Starnes, a 1987 alum, organized it.
"We brought satellite TV, a few adult beverages, food, tables, low country bowl, cornhole, three tents, about 40 chairs, and carpet,” Brian Starnes said. “So, we brought with us 24 people, it seems to have grown to about 60.”
The crowd was ready for some football. Kenny Young may have traveled the farthest.
“I came here from Seattle,” said Young, who graduated in 1996. “Football, baby, we’ve been waiting for this for years.”
16,600 people filled Jerry Richardson Stadium, a thousand more than there are seats for.
On the opening kickoff, 49ers kicker Blake Brewer booted the ball beyond the endzone for a touchback. On the first play from scrimmage, Campbell quarterback Brian Hudson ran for four yards. Then, on the third play of the game, Hudson dropped back for a pass. The team’s most experienced player, grad student Mark Hogan, picked it off — intercepting the first pass thrown in a game on McColl-Richardson field.
After the extra point, the 49ers lead by seven less than a minute into the game. The Niners defense quickly forced a punt on the next series. The offense took the field for the first time. Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Johnson proceeded to lead a 10-play, 66-yard drive and cap it with a one-yard touchdown to receiver Justin Bolus.
The entire stadium goes nuts. The 49ers catch the Camels off-guard; running back C.J. Crawford rushes in for a two-point conversion, instead of kicking the standard extra point. 15-0, 49ers.
From there, the team just rolls. At the end of the first quarter, Matt Johnson had completed all eight of his passes for 133 yard and two touchdowns. His offensive line routinely gave him five or six seconds to throw the ball. By the half, the score read 35-7. After another ten points at the beginning of the third quarter, Coach Brad Lambert began inserting his backup players to finish the game. A 33-yard run by Crawford at the beginning of the 4th quarter would be the final score.
After the clock ran out, students hopped over the sideline fence and rushed the field—no one seemed to mind.
Students Emily Sigmon and Seth McCree were two of the exuberant students.
“52-7, you can’t really beat that,” said graduate student Emily Sigmon.
“I expected them to be good, that was more than I imagined right there,” said Seth McCree, an undergraduate mechanical engineering major.
Do not expect this dominance every week. Campbell is a non-scholarship team that is rebuilding. Still, 49ers coach Brad Lambert was pleased after the game.
“You only get one chance to start on this deal, and we wanted to start right,” said Lambert. “Felt like it went right today.”
Next Saturday the 49ers play at home against the Chowan University Hawks. Kickoff is at noon.