It had been a long time since Matt Johnson and Zach Bumgarner had touched a football field for live game competition — that was until Saturday.
Both former Catawba County prep football standouts made their much-awaited college football debuts during the Charlotte 49ers first-ever spring football game this past weekend.
Johnson, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback, completed 13-of-14 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown, leading the 49ers Green team to a 26-3 victory against the White team in the intrasquad scrimmage.
A total of 13,950 people attending the highly anticipated first action in the spring for the new UNCC football program.
Johnson, a former Maiden signal-caller said the environment at McColl-Richardson Stadium on Saturday was overwhelming, but he was focused on the task at hand.
“Normally, I’d be thinking about coming out and seeing all those people, but I was more worried about completing that first pass than anything,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t notice the people in the stands or anything. I just kept thinking I needed to hit him right between the eyes with this ball because if not, it’s going to look bad. That’s pretty much all I was thinking about until the second half, and I saw the people in the stands. That’s when it hit me that we were playing a game.”
Proving he was a man on a mission, Johnson connected on a 47-yard strike to H-back C.J. Crawford on the Green team’s first play from scrimmage.
“The nerves turned down after that first completion,” Johnson said. “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. Like I said, I didn’t really notice the crowd until we came out for the second half when it hit me we were doing this. ‘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.”
Two plays later, Johnson completed an 11-yard pass to slot receiver Austin Duke for the program’s first-ever Spring game touchdown.
49ers head coach Brad Lambert was extremely pleased with Johnson’s precision passing.
“Matt did a nice job throwing the ball, and we moved the ball early, which is what we wanted,” Lambert said. “... I think Matt was 13-of-14. That’s really good execution.”
Johnson’s touchdown, as well as a three-yard scamper by Alan Barnwell, were part of 13 points by the Green team in the first quarter.
Those two touchdowns were only points scored in the first half of Saturday’s game.
Bumgarner, a former tight end and defensive end for St. Stephens High School, played in all, but two offensive series for the White squad.
He also handled all of the long-snapping duties.
“It was a unbelievable experience,” Bumgarner said. “Being out there today was a huge dream come true for me. I’ve been blessed to be in this situation, and it was awesome to see the hard work pay off.”
The Green team extended its lead in the second half with a four-yard touchdown run by halfback Damarrell Alexander and a pair of 27-yard field goals by kickers Stephen Muscarello and Hayden Pezzoni.
Muscarello tallied the only points for the White squad on a 32-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers now look to toward this summer and their next major milestone on Aug. 31.
That’s when UNC-Charlotte kicks off its inaugural football season at home against Campbell starting at noon.
“We get 29 practices before the first game,” Lambert said. “These guys will finish up their academics, get through finals and then come back July 1 to start summer school and conditioning. I’ve said it several times, but since the calendar turned to 2013, it’s been a regular schedule for us just like everybody else. That’s the way we’ll go through August.”