When Matt Johnson left the prep football field at Lincolnton High School on Nov. 18, 2011, it would be nearly two years later before he would face another opponent.
He certainley didn’t show any signs of rust in UNC-Charlotte’s inaugural game at McColl-Richardson Field on Saturday.
The former Maiden High standout threw three touchdowns and 282 yards, helping the Charlotte 49ers pick up their first win in school history against Campbell, 52-7.
“I just tried to play within myself today and not try to do to much,” Johnson said. “I got hyped when I came out of the tunnel and got to hear that loud crowd. It’s my first time playing in front of that many people. It was such a blessing for me. It was my first time playing on TV. A lot of dreams came true for me today.”
A standing room only crowd of 16,630 fans attended the historic game.
“I tell you what. That was a humbling experience out there,” said Charlotte 49ers head coach Brad Lambert. “How about our crowd and our stadium? It was a lot of fun to round out to.”
Defense aided Johnson and the 49er offense early.
Charlotte linebacker Mark Hogan intercepted Campbell quarterback Brian Hudson on the first drive and second play of the game.
Hogan returned the ball 32 yards to the end zone for the program’s first-ever touchdown.
“I think I still had some first play jitters,”Hogan said of his interception. “We read run-pass. I don’t know if I read anything. I just dropped. The next thing I know, it shocked me the ball was in my hands. I haven’t had a chance to run with the ball ever at this level. It was exciting.”
The scoring play seemed to calm Johnson’s nerves down.
“Mark Hogan took a lot of pressure off of my shoulders early on,” Johnson said. “I was pretty nervous before that pick. I felt like I could work a little bit.”
Johnson went 5-for-5 on the 49ers first offensive possession, capping the drive with a one-yard pass to Justin Bolus for the score.
“The ball was kind of slippery,” Johnson said of his first touchdown pass. “I just kind of pushed it to (Bolus). It was awesome. I really wanted to get excited up 14-0, but we weren’t done yet.”
The first touchdown pass by Johnson was surreal for former St. Stephens product and 49er offensive lineman Zach Bumgarner.
“When Matt tossed that first one to (Justin) Bolus, those are both of my roommates,” Bumgarner said. “That made my day. I felt almost like a dad over there. That’s my boys.”
Johnson would go on to complete his first eight passes in the contest for 133 yards.
Near the end of the first quarter, Johnson added his second touchdown pass, finding Austin Dukes for the 19-yard pass-and-catch.
“I thought he was really calm at the start of the game,” Lambert said of Johnson’s performance. “I really thought he was under control and composed and throwing the ball around nice and running our offense like we’ve done every day in practice. I was really proud of how he started the game. I thought he had a good temperament about him. I was really worried about them being too amped out. He came out and was in a pretty good frame of mind.”
The longest touchdown pass of the day for Johnson was his final one of the game.
He connected with Trent Bostick on a 47-yard pass with 11:36 to go in the third quarter, capping Johnson’s first day under center.
Former Foard standout and current 49er defensive lineman Tanner Fleming said Johnson showed his maturity against the Fighting Camels.
“Matt looked really composed,” Fleming said. “He played really composed. That’s a lot of things that quarterbacks with even four years of experience can’t do. They are dropping the ball and throwing incomplete passes. He did a good job of holding down the pressure from the first everything. He did a great job of keeping himself together.”
Bumgarner and Fleming both saw action on the field during Saturday’s first-ever 49ers football game.
Fleming rotated in and out periodically on the defensive line, making one solo tackle in the contest.
“One thing I realized was the emotions in the locker room, out in the stadium with the fans and the whole atmosphere of Charlotte was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced," Fleming said. "I don’t think that there was one point in the last week that I saw us walking off of the field with a loss.”
Bumgarner entered the game at left tackle with 1:29 left in the third quarter.
“I think it got real pretty fast,” Bumgarner said of his first college football game. “When you are in there for that first snap and they snap the football, you have to be able to turn it on. Once you make contact for the first time, you know you are here and you need to play ball. You stop worrying about all of the other stuff.”
With a win under its belt, the 49ers turn their attention to playing their second game against Chowan on Saturday.
Lambert has reminded his team of a motto it will keep all season — “humble pie is only a seven days away.”
“We’ll make sure they get that message this week,” he said. “Now, it’s a season. You’re in a regular week. We’ll have a tough opponent in Chowan coming in this week. We’ve got to avoid the emotional roller coaster and the let down and all of those things. We’re going to have to get after it pretty good this week.”