CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In front of a spirited crowd of 13,950 fans, the Green team raced to a 26-3 win over the White team in the Charlotte 49ers' first-ever Spring Game at McColl-Richardson Stadium, Saturday afternoon.
"The biggest thing for us today was we wanted our guys to execute with the crowd out there," said 49ers head coach Brad Lambert. "How about our fan base? Just phenomenal, the people that came out today to watch us play. It was a real shot in the arm for our guys. To go out and play in front of a big crowd like that, it was a lot of fun for us. I wanted to see our guys execute with some pressure and with some fans in the stadium. I thought they did a nice job. We got some turnovers on defense. Matt (Johnson) did a nice job throwing the ball and we moved the ball early, which is what we wanted. The best thing that happened today was nobody got hurt. That was the No. 1 goal coming out of today."
Green team quarterback Matt Johnson connected on 13-of-14 passes for 174 passing yards and threw the game's first touchdown to Austin Duke, an 11-yard pass to put the Green team up 6-0 on the opening drive that lasted less than two minutes.
"Definitely, the nerves turned down after that first completion. I normally do good after getting hit one time. That’s how it was in high school for me. But, this is a lot different from high school," Johnson said. "'It was just a regular practice' is what I tried to keep telling myself and that we needed to come out here and execute like we do every day.
The Green team continued to control the pace of the game as they put together a drive of ten plays which was capped off by Alan Barnwell’s three-yard run, extending the score to 13-0 after Stephen Muscarello’s extra point kick with 40 seconds left in the quarter.
The White team’s defense performed well in the second quarter to hold the Green team scoreless, coming up big to stall a drive that lasted for seven minutes. On fourth and goal, Kendal Parker and Cortezz Nixon stopped Green running back Damarrell Alexander on the three-yard line at the 2:51 mark.
Linebacker Terry Caldwell grabbed the game’s first interception from White team quarterback Patrick O’Brien in the third quarter and returned it for 11 yards. The Green team had to settle for a field goal and pushed its lead to 16-0 after Muscarello nailed a 27-yard attempt with 5:25 left in the third.
Just two minutes later, Desmond Cooper picked off another pass from O’Brien and ran it back for six yards, setting up the Green team on the 15-yard line. Alexander was finally able to get through the White team’s defense and ended the third quarter with a four-yard touchdown run to extend the Green team’s lead to 23-0 after Hayden Pezzoni’s extra point attempt.
After two quick downs for the White team, O’Brien threw a clutch 46-yard pass to Darius Smalls to put his team on the 18-yard line. The White team was unable to score a touchdown but got on the board with Muscarello’s 32-yard field goal, his longest of the day to cut at the Green team’s lead 23-3.
The Green team capped a nine-play drive, lasting over six minutes with a 27-yard field goal from Pezzoni to push the score to 26-3 with a 1:40 left in the game.
Johnson connected on all but one pass and his main target on Saturday was Duke who finished with 81 yards on four catches. Jamel Ross also caught four passes and tallied 47 yards. Alexander and Barnwell finished with 36 yards on the ground. Lee McNeil also saw some time as quarterback for the Green team and was 6-for-8 with 64 yards. The Green team ran 43 plays and finished with 322 offensive yards.
Devin Clegg led the Green team with four tackles as Larry Ogunjobi finished with two tackles for loss and three overall. Rick Legrant recorded the game’s only sack.
Brandon Rodriquez and Alex Petzke finished with seven tackles for the White team while Parker and Tyler DeStefani record five.
"It was unreal," Duke said of the crowd and atmosphere. "When we came in before the game, there weren’t as many people out there as they were still filing in. When we came back out, we were all like, “this is real”. It was time for us to show out and time to go out and do what we’ve been working so hard on since we got here. It was just a great turnout. The fans were amped, they were live. It was just an overall exciting experience."
Between the first and second quarter, the 49ers entertained the crowd with an offensive vs. defensive line punt receive competition.
Charlotte’s first game of its 2013 inaugural season will be on Saturday, August 31 against Campbell. Kick-off is set for noon at McColl-Richardson Stadium.