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Rush Hour

Dan Lazarovits Chases the Sack Record for Northridge in an Aggressive Defensive Scheme

September 20, 1997|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Dan Lazarovits wanted to fire up his Cal State Northridge football teammates.

So he unleashed a fury from right defensive end to start the second half against host Hawaii on Sept. 6.

On the Rainbow Warriors' first play, a shovel pass, Lazarovits dropped the receiver for a four-yard loss.

On the second play, Tim Carey backpedaled to pass and Lazarovits sacked him six yards behind the line.

Aloha, Mr. Quarterback.

On the third play, Carey dropped back again and Lazarovits nailed him for an eight-yard loss.

Aloha, again.

"That really got me going," said Lazarovits, who had a game-high 10 tackles. "After that happened, I was really looking for us to turn it around."

The Matadors never did, allowing Hawaii to extend a 17-14 halftime lead into a 34-21 victory. But Lazarovits, a 6-foot-4, 246-pound senior from Taft High, left his mark.

"That's dominating," said Jim Hackett, Northridge's first-year defensive line coach. "It's good to see a [Division] I-AA player go against a WAC [Western Athletic Conference] player and dominate."

Lazarovits could have another big game when the Matadors (1-2) play host to Azusa Pacific (0-2), an NAIA team, in their home opener at 6:05 tonight at North Campus Stadium.

Azusa Pacific doesn't have the personnel to effectively contain someone with Lazarovits' skills, a situation that won't have Cougar quarterback Bryan Lucas dancing for joy but could have him running for cover.

A converted high school linebacker, Lazarovits is chasing the Northridge season and career records for sacks. He has four sacks this season, giving him 13 1/2 in four seasons and leaving him four shy of Ken Wallace's school record for a career. Wallace, who played linebacker from 1989-90, had 14 1/2 sacks his senior year.

Lazarovits, who runs 40 yards in 4.9 seconds, attributes much of his success this season to a strategy devised by Northridge's new staff.

"These coaches finally saw what I can do [rushing] on the outside instead of the inside," Lazarovits said. "There's less people on you usually [on the outside]. I get to work more on tackles, tight ends and running backs as opposed to centers and guards, and I'm able to exploit my speed."

Opportunities for Lazarovits to shine will start Oct. 4 when the Matadors open play in the pass-crazy Big Sky Conference at Portland State. It will launch Northridge's second season in one of the top I-AA football conferences.

"I came to college to play D-I [Division I] football, but it wasn't much of a D-I program," Lazarovits said of his arrival at Northridge in 1994. "I look at those guys [still on the team] who went out to pass out fliers to get people to come to the games and I'm so proud of them."

In 1994, the Matadors finished 3-7 under Bob Burt, who resigned after the season. They dropped to 2-8 under Dave Baldwin in 1995 but rebounded with a 7-4 record last season. Baldwin left in December to become coach at San Jose State and Jim Fenwick was hired away from Valley College to keep the program moving upward.

The Matadors, despite their slow start, are by no means in decline. They have played three road games against I-A opponents, a sign of maturity for a program that is finally gaining legitimacy and helping to vindicate Lazarovits and other survivors of past Northridge debacles.

For sure, the Matadors could tighten their defense, which ranks last or near the bottom among Big Sky teams in every category. But Lazarovits, with a trace of indignation in his voice, believes it's unfair to judge the team based on three games.

"If people want to question it, it should come when we play our level of competition," Lazarovits said.

Even if there are skeptics, Lazarovits probably won't pay them much mind. He's too busy enjoying a senior season that is worlds apart from his early and forgettable days at Northridge.

"We get to play in a big conference," he said. "We get to play on a team that has the potential to play for a national championship. We get to play in Hawaii. It's a big difference.

"I'm just happy it happened before I left."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Azusa Pacific (0-2)

at Northridge (1-2)

When: Tonight, 6:05

Where: North Campus Stadium

Fast fact: The Matadors have won 14 consecutive home openers.

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