SAN LUIS OBISPO — The pass was just short. An inch, maybe two.
Whatever, a couple of blades of grass came between the ball and Robert Guillen's hands, so Cal State Northridge failed to magically pull out a victory against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the closing seconds as it had done a year ago.
San Luis Obispo, ranked 11th in Division II, scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to defeat the Matadors, 21-20, Saturday night in a Western Football Conference game played before a near-capacity crowd of 6,327 at Mustang Stadium.
As Pat Degnan, a Northridge assistant said climbing down from the press box after the game, "Ain't it ironic?"
Last season, the Matadors had come from behind to defeat the Mustangs by the same score in the closing seconds.
Not this time.
Northridge, which got the ball on its own 20 with 1:41 left in the game, moved only 11 yards before Guillen came just short of scooping up a Rob Huffman pass up the middle for a first down on fourth and nine.
There were still 59 seconds left, but it probably didn't matter.
Northridge (4-2, 1-1 in the WFC) hadn't been able to move the ball with any consistency since taking a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter.
"We had it won," Huffman said of the game that slipped away. "We didn't execute at the end of the game. We gave the game away, really."
That, however, may have been selling his counterpart short.
Mustang quarterback Tom Sullivan, who completed 8 of 15 passes for 112 yards in a modest first-half performance, teamed with Lance Martin to riddle the CSUN secondary in the latter part of the game.
He finished with 324 yards in completing 20 of 31 attempts. Martin, 5-7, 165, sneaked past the Northridge secondary for 8 catches, good for 175 yards.
And when the Mustangs weren't picking up large chunks of yardage through the air, they turned to tailback Allen Survia, who responded with 85 second-half rushing yards and two touchdowns.
He scored for San Luis Obispo on back-to-back possessions opening the fourth quarter.
A two-yard run by Survia cut CSUN's lead to 20-14 with 12:39 remaining.
His 25-yard sweep around left end just four minutes later tied the score, 20-20, and Sean Pierce's extra point gave San Luis Obispo the lead and ultimately the win.
Northridge had taken a 20-7 advantage with 9:25 left in the third period on a 4-yard touchdown run by Albert Fann. The CSUN tailback, who rushed for 109 yards on 19 carries, missed much of the second half with a hip injury.
"We'll just have to take the 21-20 loss like they did last year and come back from it," Northridge Coach Bob Burt said.
Northridge led at the half, 13-7, on Abo Velasco field goals of 42 and 27 yards, but probably would have been satisfied with just staying close.
The Matadors were penalized six times for 54 yards, which succeeded in doing what the San Luis Obispo defense couldn't--stop the CSUN running game.
Northridge, which came in averaging 254 yards rushing a game, had 140 in the first half.
Northridge was pinned deep in its own territory for almost the entire first quarter, escaping only once to march 76 yards on 10 plays for a touchdown that tied the score, 7-7.
Fann rushed for 45 of the yards, but the big play on the drive came on a fourth-and-13 play when split end Keith Wright made a spectacular 18-yard pass reception with Mustang corner back David Grave draped all over him.
Fann ran 17 yards to the two-yard line on the next play, and fullback Richard Brown took it over from there.
San Luis Obispo (6-0), which was penalized twice for 10 yards, had scored on its first possession, driving 51 yards on 7 plays. Allen Survia swept right for the final four yards and the touchdown.