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Montana Nearly Does a Skydive

Football: Northridge keeps up with No. 2 Grizzlies, who escape with 43-36 victory.

November 03, 1996|MIKE HISERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Now we know how far up is in the Big Sky.

Almost within grasp.

Cal State Northridge, unheralded and somewhat maligned entering its first campaign in the nation's premier Division I-AA football league, gave second- ranked Montana all it could handle before falling, 43-36, in a Big Sky Conference game Saturday night before a crowd of 4,217 at North Campus Stadium.

And to the Matadors' collective credit, there was no talk of moral victories afterward.

"No, a moral victory would have been a victory," Coach Dave Baldwin said.

However, there were plenty of, uh, silver linings.

* Like a school and stadium record 457 yards passing by Northridge's Aaron Flowers.

* Like playing even with the reigning Division I-AA national champions until midway through the fourth quarter.

* Like earning some respect.

Asked how close Northridge was to being considered a serious contender in the conference, Montana defensive coordinator Jerome Souers replied, "It seems like they're there now."

Heck, Montana's Brian Ah Yat didn't even pass for 500 yards, a mark he surpassed in his two previous games.

Although he did get the job done.

Ah Yat, the nation's total offense leader, completed a relatively tame 21 of 40 passes for 265 yards. If only the Matadors could have stopped him from running.

Ah Yat scrambled 13 times for 78 yards that hurt.

"He's a great player," Baldwin said. "We blitzed him. We came after him and he hurt us."

And even though his yardage wasn't tremendous, Ah Yat got the results he was after. He passed for four touchdowns without having a pass intercepted and got his team a tough victory on the road.

Montana (8-0, 5-0 in conference) has won a conference-record 15 games in a row dating to last season.

Mike Erhardt was on the opposite end of two Ah Yat scoring passes in the fourth quarter that gave Montana the victory.

The first, covering 14 yards, came with 6:43 left to play and broke a 29-29 tie.

Then again, the way Northridge kept scrambling back, that touchdown hardly seemed anything to be alarmed about. The Matadors only trailed by seven points.

But Northridge (5-4, 2-3), which couldn't afford mistakes, committed its only turnover.

Norman Clarke, who had 75 rushing yards in 11 carries, fumbled at the Northridge 31 and Montana's Jason Crebo recovered.

Four plays later, the Grizzlies had the game's first double-digit lead, 43-29, with 4:31 to play.

The touchdown was nearly a replay of one a little more than two minutes before. Erhardt, who was split wide, cut back toward the defense, gathered in a short pass, and sliced through the defense to the end zone. This time, the scoring play covered 17 yards.

Northridge's final touchdown came with only four seconds left, on a 68-yard pass play from Flowers to Cameron Perry.

Perry had eight catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns, the other covering four yards early in the fourth quarter. That tied the score, 29-29, but Manny Marquez missed the extra point wide left.

Marquez made three other extra points, plus field goals of 35, 31 and 30 yards. Montana's Andy Larson was two of two on extra points, three for three on field goals.

Northridge came up 11 seconds short of accomplishing a first--holding high-powered Montana without a touchdown for a half.

Then Ah Yat's one-yard pass to Joe Douglass put the Grizzlies ahead, 15-14.

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