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Unencumbered CSUN Faces N. Arizona


FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — As Cal State Northridge prepared for its first rematch with Northern Arizona since the Lumberjacks' record-setting 68-7 thrashing of the Matadors a year ago, Chad Marsalek was asked what it feels like to lose a football game by 61 points.

"It makes you sick," the senior running back said. "I don't know how else to describe it."

This from receiver Tim Hilton: "Embarrassed."

From safety Doug Varner: "Crushed."

And linebacker James Woods: "Disgraced."

You get the idea.

The Matadors will return to the scene of the worst loss in school history tonight when Northridge faces Northern Arizona at 6:05 at Walkup Skydome. But the circumstances could not be more different.

Northridge has joined Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Conference. And, more importantly, the Matadors are riding the crest of a shocking 33-0 victory over Division I-A New Mexico State last week.

"We knew [New Mexico State] wasn't a big-time I-A school," Marsalek said. "But beating a team that is I-A and has 85 scholarships gives you a lot of confidence."

Which is something Northridge was sorely lacking as the Matadors limped into Flagstaff last season, after a 52-0 loss to Idaho State.

"We had just played Idaho State and I thought we could beat them," Varner said. "Then they just blew us away. And we knew Northern Arizona was better than Idaho State. That Idaho State game really set the tempo."

Tentative before they even stepped on the artificial turf at Northern Arizona, the Matadors were in the game only slightly longer than the average Mike Tyson opponent is upright.

Northridge trailed, 28-0, after the first quarter and 54-7 at halftime. No one could accuse the Lumberjacks of running up the score, either. They began pulling starters early in the second quarter and threw only three passes in the second half.

This year, coming off their rout of New Mexico State, the Matadors seem to actually believe they can win.

"It boosted our spirits up a lot," Varner said. "We just have confidence in ourselves."

Northridge (2-1) validated its potential by hammering a Division I-A team despite fumbling away two easy touchdowns and making several other offensive mistakes.

The Lumberjacks (3-1), meanwhile, have steadily climbed the I-AA rankings to their current spot at No. 13.

Northern Arizona is averaging 530.75 yards a game, second in the nation. Archie Amerson, a candidate to win the Walter Payton Award as the nation's top I-AA player, is averaging 216.5 yards rushing.

Northridge will be without two key players--defensive lineman Pete Silvey, out because of a broken foot, and linebacker Teddy Mack, still unavailable after a series of mysterious seizures.

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