EDMOND, Okla. — Albert Fann, the Cal State Northridge tailback whose quest for the Harlon Hill trophy has become an uphill battle, had a word of warning for future Matador opponents as he stalked off the field at Central State's Wantland Stadium on Saturday night.
"I'm baaack!" he cried merrily.
Fann, who rushed for 117 yards in CSUN's first two games, almost doubled his pleasure against Central State, rushing for 101 yards in 28 carries and two touchdowns to help the Matadors defeat the Bronchos, 17-6, in a nonconference game before 3,800.
It was the 16th 100-yard rushing game of Fann's collegiate career and it enabled Northridge to improve its record to 2-1 going into a key matchup at home on Saturday against UC Davis.
But make no mistake, this was a game won by the Matadors' defense.
Led by linemen Tom Berry and Alo Sila, linebackers Ken Vaughn, Terrell Taylor and Mario Hull, Northridge held Central State's rushing game to 75 yards in 35 carries.
Pinky Hurley and Terrance Jones, the Bronchos' rotating tailbacks, had averaged a combined 183 rushing yards.
"Our defense rose to the occasion again, time after time," Matador Coach Bob Burt said.
Berry and Vaughn each had seven tackles and Berry was particularly impressive in pursuit of Hurley, the Bronchos' 5-foot-8 jitterbug. "He ran down Hurley from behind a couple of times," Burt said. "I don't know how fast Hurley is, but Berry is 255 (pounds)."
Until midway through the third period, the effort appeared as if it might go wasted. The Northridge offense was sputtering as Fann looked a step slow and Matador receivers were dropping a high percentage of the few passes that senior quarterback Sherdrick Bonner was delivering on target.
"I just didn't have my savvy," Bonner said. "A few things happened out there (dropped passes, missed assignments) and they added up. I wasn't man enough to shrug it off."
He did, however, shoulder the blame--despite having a pretty good excuse. Bonner missed two full weeks of practice after injuring his ankle three weeks ago in the first quarter of CSUN's opener at Northern Arizona.
For more than a half, it didn't matter. Central State's offense was having no better luck against a swarming Northridge defense.
And when the Bronchos (1-2) finally broke a scoreless deadlock on their first possession of the third period, Northridge quickly retaliated.
The Matadors scored on consecutive possessions on drives of 66 and 45 yards. Fann bowled over from a yard out with 6:38 left in the third period and he dived over from the one three minutes later to put the Matadors ahead, 14-6.
"I think we wore them down in the second half," said Fann, who gained 61 of his rushing yards in the final two quarters. "We didn't get frustrated when things weren't clicking for us in the first half. Everybody stepped up. Our line just overpowered theirs."
Before its touchdown marches, Northridge's best scoring opportunity come after Sila blocked a point-after attempt by Central State's Lee Stamper.
CSUN's Clayton Bamberg grabbed the ball on the run and made his way down the sideline before Stamper nudged him out of bounds near midfield. Had he scored, it would have been good for two points.
Central State's touchdown, which came on a 20-yard run by Hurley five minutes into the second half, seemed to ignite Northridge.
"We were tried of getting embarrassed by a team like that," said Bonner, who completed nine of 15 for 80 yards in the second half. "We could have folded our tent right there, but we went right down the field and scored."