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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Matadors Take Their Place: 1st

Big Sky: Northridge builds big lead in first half, holds off Portland State and moves into conference lead by one-half game with 32-28 victory.

November 08, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Cal State Northridge took one sizable step closer to winning the Big Sky Conference football title with a 32-28 victory over Portland State in front of 3,813 on Saturday at North Campus Stadium.

The Matadors (6-3, 5-2 in conference play) moved into first place by a half-game over Montana State (6-3, 4-2) and Montana (6-3, 4-2) with one conference game remaining, at last-place Idaho State on Nov. 21.

Northridge knocked Portland State (5-4, 4-3) from the title chase, and even a chance for a playoff spot, with a highly efficient attack in the first half that cashed in on three turnovers.

"It goes down to turnovers and capitalizing on opportunities," Northridge Coach Ron Ponciano said. "Turnovers were the turning point."

The Matadors recovered two Portland State fumbles, intercepted two passes and made a defensive stand in the fourth quarter to win their final home game of the season.

Northridge led, 32-28, with 14:46 to play when the Vikings took possession at their three. They drove 88 yards in 11 plays to the Northridge nine, with Charles Dunn accounting for 57 yards in eight carries, but couldn't push the Matadors any farther.

Linebacker Shayne Blakey hammered Dunn one yard behind the line on first and goal, linebacker Brennen Swanson sacked Tyson Parsons for a 13-yard loss and Parsons' pass on third down fell incomplete.

Scott Deans' 40-yard field-goal attempt failed, hitting a Portland State lineman in the back.

"I read pass," Swanson said of the sack, his second of the game. "The [Portland State] guards were leaning back, so I just rushed as fast as I could."

The Matadors knew they had their hands full with Portland State's offense, which came into the game ranked sixth in Division I-AA at 485.6 yards per game. Dunn was eighth in the division in rushing at 151.5 yards per game.

Dunn finished with 167 yards, 130 in the second half, and Portland State outgained Northridge, 363 yards to 288.

Parsons scored on a three-yard bootleg to cap the opening drive of the game. Northridge pulled to within 7-6 on a 10-yard pass from Marcus Brady to Aaron Arnold with 5:10 to play in the first quarter before Parsons scrambled 16 yards to put the Vikings ahead, 14-6, with 2:38 remaining in the quarter.

Brady's nine-yard swing pass to Anthony Ramos cut the deficit to 14-12 early in the second quarter. Then Portland State fell apart.

Rashad Floyd dropped a punt and Jose Gonzalez recovered for the Matadors at the Portland State 15. Brady scored four plays later from the one to put Northridge ahead, 18-14.

With 3:08 before the half, Parsons' pass bounced off Derrick Brame's shoe and into the hands of Shawnbay Jones, who returned the interception 14 yards to the Portland State seven. Melvin Blue's two-yard touchdown run gave Northridge a 25-14 lead.

On Portland State's next possession, Brian Harris fumbled after catching a pass and safety Vito Clemente returned it 43 yards to the Viking three. Two plays later, Brady found Drew Hill on a three-yard pass and Northridge led, 32-14, at halftime.

"The biggest thing on my mind was we had to make the big plays," Clemente said.

Brady completed 25 of 41 passes for 186 yards and Parsons was 15 of 26 for 178 yards.

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