Albert Fann earned his mud mark and the Cal State Northridge defense earned back some respect as the Matadors stayed in the race for a Western Football Conference championship with a 7-6 victory over Santa Clara on Saturday night at North Campus Stadium.
Fann, a freshman often referred to in coaching circles as "a real thoroughbred," proved he was a good mudder--put an asterisk by his name in your program--by rushing for 56 yards on 14 carries and, most importantly, toting the second-half kickoff 85 yards for Northridge's only touchdown.
The defense, riddled for 36 points and 495 yards the week before, held Santa Clara scoreless three times on first-and-goal inside the 10-yard line in the last 16 minutes of the game.
And when the Broncos finally did push one over on a two-yard run by Paul Marcy with 26 seconds left to play, the Matadors stuffed the try for a two-point conversion.
Santa Clara, which entered the game in a first-place tie for the WFC lead with Portland State, first missed the point-after kick when Tobin Douglas' effort was wide right. But Northridge was penalized when safety Dan Coleman was caught using a lineman's back for a ladder in an effort to block the kick.
The penalty moved the ball to the one, and with Douglas having already missed four field goal attempts, including a 27-yarder in the fourth quarter, the Broncos went for the win. But tailback Matt Shaw was dumped for a two-yard loss by linebackers Mark Dozier and Tracy Anderson.
It was the same play that Marcy had scored on.
"They had been running it all game long," said Northridge Coach Bob Burt. "We were waiting for it. Dozier made a great play."
Dozier, who had a game-high 13 tackles, said he saw Shaw coming even before he took the pitch.
"I just grabbed him and held on," Dozier said.
Anderson, who earlier had bumbled away two potential interceptions, hit Shaw high and drove him back two yards before dropping him into the mud.
The win kept Northridge within a game of Portland State, which defeated Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 31-7 on Saturday. Portland is 4-0 in conference play and leads Northridge (6-2, 3-1) and Santa Clara (6-2, 3-1) by a game. The Matadors play at Portland in two weeks.
Aside from Northridge's goal-line stands, Fann had provided most of the excitement to that point--all on the one kickoff.
He received the ball near the left hash mark at the 15, fumbled it momentarily, ran diagonally across the field to the right, picked up a block from Coleman that enabled him to race up the sideline and make the rest of the trip untouched.
"I thought I was out of bounds once." he said. "I couldn't see the sideline because of the rain. But I just kept on running."
Fann faced a final defender near the Northridge 30, but broke back toward the center of the field behind the block of David Porter.
Fann's instant offense saved the Matadors from a shutout. Fann, the WFC's leading rusher with a 97-yard per-game average, suffered a thigh bruise early in the third quarter and was held out the rest of the game.
His injury is not considered serious, but the Matadors were forced to juggle their offensive line for the final three periods after all-conference center Brian Clark broke his right hand.
Santa Clara outgained Northridge, 266-69, and spent much of the game knocking on the Matador goal line. But Northridge always answered unpolitely.
It was scoreless at the half as both teams had trouble adapting to the rainy weather and field conditions. Northridge, which was shut out in a half for the first time since its 30-0 loss to Boise State in the season-opener, was particularly ineffective on offense. The Matadors had only 45 net yards in total offense, which was especially bad considering that Fann had 51 yards.
Santa Clara was considerably more effective gaining yardage by running its fullback and throwing to its backs.
Santa Clara had three shots at scoring in the first half, but Tobin Douglas missed on field goal attempts each time.
The Broncos drove from their own 20 to the Matador 16 in the most impressive march of the game by either team, but Douglas, who made a 54-yarder earlier this season, missed from 33.
He missed again from 46 yards on Santa Clara's next possession.