The Charlotte 49ers suffered their first loss of the season, 40-13, to North Carolina Central, Saturday at Jerry Richardson Stadium.
The loss snaps the 49ers season-opening two-game win streak and came in the final game of a three-game homestand in front of a standing room only crowd of 16,630.
In a turnabout from the first two games, it was NCCU that scored in each of the quarters, NCCU that scored on offense, defense and special teams and NCCU that won the turnover battle.
Charlotte (2-1) accumulated over 500 yards of offense, but committed a season-high seven turnovers, while the Eagles (2-1) started the second half with a 100-yard kickoff return and added a 48-yard interception return seven minutes later to break open a 13-0 halftime lead.
NCCU converted two field goals in the first quarter and added the games' first touchdown following an interception, late in the second quarter to take a 13-0 lead into the half. Charlotte had chances to score in the first half, but had a 37-yard field goal blocked and twice turned the ball over in Eagles' territory -- including once on second and goal.
"We just made too many mistakes," said 49ers head coach Brad Lambert. "We had too many turnovers and the kicking game wasn't as good as it needed to be. Those plays are hard to overcome. There's going to be some things in there when we watch the film that makes them see it's really a low margin of error to flip a script in a game like that because our guys were flying around and playing real hard."
The 49ers, who had outscored opponents 41-0 in the first quarter of their first two games, had a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked in the first frame and despite getting the ball back on a fumble on the very next play, turned it back over with a fumble inside Eagles territory, leading to NCCU's first TD.
Matt Johnson threw two interceptions in the second quarter. The first, by Tim Thaniel with 10:55 to play in the half, came on second and goal on a pass into the Eagles endzone as the 49ers seemed poised to put points on the board and possibly take the lead. The second led to to Deyonta Wright's four-yard touchdown run with 2:24 left in the half that put the Eagles ahead, 13-0.
“The defense was outstanding," said NCCU interim head coach Dwayne Foster. "That effort was unbelievable today—getting turnovers and putting us in really good field position as well. They played strong and hard, and we hope that continues for the rest of the season.”
In the third quarter NCCU took control. Adrian Wilkins 100-yard kickoff return to open the second half pushed the lead to 20-0. Johnson's third interception of the game was returned 48 yards for a touchdown by Tony Williams to give the Eagles a 26-0 lead after the extra point was blocked with 7:22 left in the quarter.
"You got to give Central a lot of credit," Lambert said. "They came in here and played real hard. It's a real class group over there. They handled the environment really well and coach (Dwayne) Foster had them ready to play."
The Eagles extended the lead to 33-0 late in the third quarter before Charlotte scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns on runs from Alan Barnwell and Lee McNeill to close the final margin.
Johnson finished the day with a season-high 335 yards passing on 35-of-52 completions, but threw five interceptions. Kalif Phillips rushed for 89 yards and the 49ers gained 191 yards on the ground. Slot receiver Austin Duke added 97 receiving yards on seven catches.
"I felt like our offense ran really well," said Johnson, as the 49ers posted season-highs in plays (106), passing yards and total offense. "We had a few missed assignments, including by me. I have to keep the ball on our side of the field and in our hands."
"He got to rushing a little bit today," Lambert said of his red-shirt freshman QB. "But another thing is that Central is pretty good. With the level of competition, you've got to give him credit for good plays. He made some bad decisions, no question, but he's a young guy playing in his third game. I just think the game sped up for him a little bit."
Charlotte's defense did well to limit the Eagles to two field goals in the first quarter despite NCCU's advantage in field position. One Eagles scoring drive started on their own 42 while the other started on the 49ers' 22 following a Charlotte fumble. The second quarter touchdown drive, likewise, started on the 49ers' 19 yard line. Central finished with 385 yards of total offense and the 49ers forced three fumbles.
"Central came out ready to fire," said 49ers safety Desmond Cooper. "We prepared the same way, but everywhere we have to be better."
Barnwell scored his first TD of the season on a two-yard run with 8:20 left to play. McNeill, who came in to finish the game at QB, orchestrated a nine-play; 51-yard drive for the 49ers other score. McNeill scored the TD, his first as a 49er, on a 10-yard run.
· Charlotte trailed in a game for the first time when NCCU took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
· The 49ers were held scoreless in the first quarter, marking the first time this season in which they did not score in a quarter
· First time Charlotte trailed going into the half, NCCU led 13-0
· 49ers first field goal block: CB Terrance Winchester, at 13:37 2nd quarter
New record for most yards passing in a game: 335 yards, QB Matt Johnson (35-of-52)
· New record for most rushing yards in a game: 85 yards, RB Kalif Phillips (20 rushes)
· New record for most receiving yards in a game: 97 yards, slot receiver Austin Duke (seven catches)
· New record for most receptions in a game: 8, WR Trent Bostick (66 yards)
· New record for longest punt: P Brandon Strupp, 55 yards to NCCU 5 yard line