SAN FRANCISCO — During the past week, Cal State Northridge football players were treated to a number of sermons by their coaches. Each made the same point.
The message was that no matter how bad the upcoming opponent looked on film or paper, the Matadors would have to practice and play with intensity.
Coaches are by nature somewhat of a paranoid lot anyway, but in this case, the Northridge staff seemed to have reason to be concerned about a letdown.
The Matadors had just beaten nationally ranked Cal State Hayward last week.
They had been nationally ranked themselves for the first time since 1981.
They were playing a team that had been outscored, 157-27, in losing its first three games.
Little did they know just how far they would have had to fall to reach the depth of ineptitude at San Francisco State.
The Matadors, playing about half as well as they had against Hayward, still won, 37-0, over San Francisco State in front of a crowd of about 1,500 that found its way to Cox Stadium.
Finding the playing field is, indeed, no easy task. The campus is nestled among hills and trees near Lake Merced. The football field is hidden from street view. Considering the play of the Gator team, a wise choice.
Northridge, ranked 15th in Division II, didn't waste much time before displaying their class advantage.
The Matadors' took the opening kickoff and went 70 yards on seven plays to score.
Quarterback Chris Parker completed passes of 29 yards to Chris Moore and 20 yards to Nick Uruburu on the drive. He also scrambled for a 17-yard gain, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run by Mike Kane.
On their following possession, the Matadors went 55 yards on 6 plays with Parker hitting freshman running back Lance Harper with a 13-yard scoring pass. Mike Doan's extra-point try was wide, leaving Northridge with a 13-0 first-quarter lead.
A 33-yard field goal by Doan less than 3 minutes into the second quarter made it 16-0.
San Francisco's five possessions in the first half all ended in punts. The Gators' longest series of plays--it wasn't long enough to be called a drive--gained 34 yards.
But was Northridge Coach Bob Burt happy at halftime?
"We were playing down at their level," Burt said. "This team is still learning how to win, and we have to keep on them until they learn. We played well enough to win. And that's all."
This is the same man who had this original warning for his newly ranked team at one juncture last week: "Rankings are like poison. If you swallow it, it can kill you."
So, after catching another earful from Mr. Burt and Co. at intermission, the Matadors blew the game open with a pair of third-quarter scores.
The first came on a swing pass from reserve quarterback Danny Fernandez that Kane turned into a 43-yard touchdown. A little more than six minutes later, it was Kane again, this time running it in from five yards out.
The Matadors added their final touchdown in the opening minutes of the final quarter when Parker hit tight end Brian Bowers with a 27-yard touchdown pass.
Meanwhile, the most impressive part of San Francisco's play proved to be its punting game. John Boruk had an average of 47.9 yards on eight kicks. Maybe practice does make perfect.
San Francisco (0-4) crossed midfield only twice--once in each half. The Gators resorted to a 41-yard field-goal try with 3:24 left in the game in an attempt to break the shutout, but it was blocked by Dan Coleman.
The Matador defense, which allowed only 66 yards rushing--including 38 on one fourth-quarter play--has not been scored upon in eight quarters.
Northridge (3-0) ended up with a 373-114 advantage in total yards.
So Burt had to be impressed with the second half at least, right?
"Yeah, we played a little better," he said with only a slight hint of enthusiasm.
For the first time this season, the Matadors had more yards passing than rushing, 189-183. Parker and Fernandez split time for the third game, but Burt said he probably will not alternate quarterbacks when Northridge opens its Western Football Conference schedule at Southern Utah State next week. He would not, however, name the starter.
The favorite for the starting nod would appear to be Parker, who had a rough game in the Matadors' opener at Sonoma State but has looked sharp in the last two games.
Parker flourished in last season's wide-open run-and-shoot offense, passing for 2,658 yards, a CSUN season record. So far this season, he's been mostly handing off.
Both quarterbacks completed five of their seven attempts. Parker passed for 105 yards, 2 touchdowns and also ran for 28 yards. Fernandez passed for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Kane once again led the Matador rushing attack, gaining 66 yards on 15 carries. Harper, a freshman from San Fernando High, gained 54 yards on 13 carries in his most extensive stint of playing time this year.