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Matadors Save Face but Lose in Arizona

Football: Northridge falls, 32-14, against nemesis Northern Arizona in Big Sky debut.


FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — It says a lot about how far the Cal State Northridge football team has progressed that the Matadors can be upset about almost beating the 13th-ranked team in Division I-AA, a team that annihilated them last year by 61 points.

The bar of expectation has been drastically raised.

Pulling to within five points of Northern Arizona in the fourth quarter was not satisfying for the Matadors, because they eventually lost, 32-14, before a hostile crowd of 9,028 at Walkup Skydome on Saturday.

"It's not good enough to play hard," Northridge linebacker Marc Goodson said. "What matters is if we win or lose. And we believe we can win."

The Matadors (2-2, 0-1), playing their Big Sky Conference debut, seemed on the verge of pulling off what would have been the greatest victory in the program's 34-year history, supplanting last week's 33-0 victory over New Mexico State.

Northridge turned a 19-point deficit into a five-point margin in under five minutes early in the fourth quarter when Northern Arizona hit the Matadors with a pair of momentum-stealing plays.

The first was a third-and-eight pass on which quarterback Travis Brown gave a pump fake and hit Dion Black, who streaked past cornerback Tayari Ferrell, for a 48-yard touchdown with 6 minutes 17 seconds to play.

On Northridge's next series, David Romines made an acrobatic 42-yard catch to put the Matadors at the Northern Arizona 35. But on the next play, Aaron Flowers threw a sideline pass that was close to nobody but cornerback Cedric Jones, who ran 82 yards for a touchdown.

The extra point gave the Lumberjacks a 32-14 lead with 5:32 to play. And that ended the scare the Matadors had thrown into Northern Arizona (4-1, 1-0).

"I was positive we were going to win the game," said receiver Jeramie Thomas. "You always think the better team is going to win, and I thought we were the better team."

Coach Dave Baldwin, though, was still happy with his team's progress since last season's 68-7 thrashing in Flagstaff.

"I have nothing to be down about," he said. "We were in it until the end. . . . I thought we were going to win it, to be honest."

Northern Arizona Coach Steve Axman was worried, too.

"The difference in Northridge [from last year] is night and day," he said. "There is no comparison. They can become a power in our league."

The Matadors trailed, 19-0, late in the third quarter before starting their comeback. Flowers, who had been off target for most of the game, began hitting his receivers and drove Northridge 80 yards for a score, converting on a third-and-goal pass to Cameron Perry from the nine.

After a Northridge defensive stop, Flowers led the Matadors on an efficient, five-play, 58-yard scoring drive. When Romines caught the 10-yard pass in the corner of the end zone and Manny Marquez added the extra point, Northridge trailed, 19-14, with 13:33 to play.

Romines had only two catches at halftime but finished with 11 for 181 yards.

The shootout that most expected from two of the top offensive teams in the nation never materialized.

Both defensive fronts played extremely well, pressuring quarterbacks into bad passes and keeping the teams from establishing any sort of running game.

Perhaps the most remarkable statistic of the game was that Northern Arizona's Archie Amerson ran for only 99 yards in 29 carries. Amerson came into the game second in the nation with an average of 216 yards rushing.

But Northridge's offense couldn't do much better. Flowers had his worst half of the season, completing four of 12 passes for 39 yards. Several of the incompletions came when Flowers simply missed open targets. He finished 18 of 37 for 235 yards.

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