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Give a Nugget
I have to be honest for a second. I wasn't at the game because it was daughters second birthday. Worst yet….I turned the game off in frustration after Charlotte got a safety with 4 minutes left down by 12. I didn't even know the Niners won until my friends who were at the game showed up at my house…and I even had to look it up to see if they were messing with me.
However…I had time to watch the game from that point and highlights on what happened after. After going back and watching, there is one glaring thing that stood out: Matt Johnson.
We had the chance to see the Niners win big and then lose big…but suddenly the young 49ers were in a spot they've never been in. They were in a dog fight with a nationally ranked team (FCS #24). Charlotte played 17 freshmen on Saturday when Gardner-Webb played only one. Let that sit in for a second. Those were men vs. boys. Charlotte was outmatched the entire game and found themselves trailing several times by double scores.
A big reason they kept coming back, besides a little luck, was the stellar play and evolving of Matt Johnson. At times, he acted like a surgeon finding open receivers and sharing the love hitting six different targets. The play that stood out to me was when the Niners were down 24-17 and under a minute left until halftime. The Niners were in their own territory facing a 3rd and long when Johnson had three defensive linemen in the backfield, squeezed through a gap, sidestepped another defender, found some running room, crossed the first down mark and then I saw the 6'3 230lb quarterback from Newton, NC launch himself into the air against 3 other defenders.
I thought “man, do we have a football player!” It kept the drive alive…and then extended as he threw two completions toward the sidelines to stop the clock and then hit Austin Duke in the middle of the endzone for a smooth 26 yard touchdown pass tying the game at halftime.
During the comeback, being down 21 with less than a quarter left in the game, Johnson threw three touchdown passes. He threaded the needle in the back of the endzone to C.J. Crawford. He lobbed it 20 yards over the middle to allow Austin Duke to make a play on another. And then aired it out to Trent Bostick for a 48 yard score. Three very different throws that showed his ability to make big plays. When it was said and done, he threw for 342 yards and 5 touchdowns!
Johnson knows how to play football. He doesn't make many mistakes, but when he does it's understandable as people sometimes forget that he's just a freshmen. He even might make the mistake of not sliding, as when he runs he seems to enjoy running over people. Until he shows a sign of injury, I kind of admire a QB delivering a little pain to tacklers.
This kid has all the tangibles of being great. He's tough. He can throw. He can run. He understands the game. He can play football and as of now, we have witnessed his leadership ability. I know he benefits from great offensive line blocking and a dependable running game, but I think Johnson is special. He makes his surroundings better. Over the years, he will only learn more and get better…and that's the greatest part, because I'm not sure his best has surfaced yet!
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