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NOTEBOOK

Matadors Need Two Wins to Ensure Playoff Berth

November 10, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Northridge's nonconference football game at Southwest Missouri State on Saturday represents more than just a schedule-filler for the Matadors.

Northridge (6-3) would likely receive an invitation to the Division I-AA playoffs by defeating the Bears (5-4) and Idaho State the following week in its Big Sky Conference finale.

"The kids know we have to win the next two games to ensure [a playoff spot]," Northridge Coach Ron Ponciano said.

The Matadors would qualify automatically by winning the Big Sky title. They are in first place with a 5-2 record, one-half game ahead of Montana (4-2) and Montana State (4-2).

Montana hosts Montana State on Nov. 21 with a share of the championship at stake, assuming Montana wins at Cal State Sacramento on Saturday and Montana State beats last-place Idaho State at home.

Northridge holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Montana but not over Montana State, so the Matadors have a rooting interest.

A loss at Southwest Missouri State and a victory at Idaho State would leave the Matadors with a 7-4 record and probably out of the 16-team playoffs unless they win the Big Sky title.

Since 1995, only three teams with four losses have been invited to the playoffs.

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Doug Fullerton, the Big Sky commissioner, said the top eight ranked teams typically host first-round playoff games, not the eight conference champions who qualify automatically.

But the Big Sky champion still could host a first-round game regardless of ranking.

"The committee understands how good the Big Sky is," Fullerton said. "They usually give the Big Sky one home game."

A team wanting to host a game must pay a $30,000 guarantee.

"We're looking into it," Ponciano said. "We need to get 3,000 [people] at 10 bucks [each] to do that. I think there'd be a lot of people who'd come to watch us."

Northridge's smallest home crowd this season was 3,317 against Southern Utah on Oct. 3. The largest crowd was 6,124 against Montana.

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The Matadors are ranked No. 24 by ESPN/USA Today and No. 25 by the Sports Network among Division I-AA teams.

In the Sagarin ratings, Northridge is ranked No. 117, tops among Big Sky teams and 16th highest among I-AA schools listed.

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Ponciano said the Matadors are playing a nonconference game at Southern Methodist on Nov. 13, 1999, for a $125,000 guarantee.

Northridge also is trying to shed Southern Utah as its opponent next Sept. 4. Ponciano said Southern Utah used illegal chop blocks against Northridge in October.

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Northridge assistant Keith Borges devotes his attention to two teams--the Matadors and UCLA--each Saturday.

And, until recently, Oregon.

Borges, Northridge's running backs coach, is the brother of Alan Borges, UCLA offensive coordinator, and a cousin of Nick Aliotti, Bruin defensive coordinator.

He kept a close eye on Oregon because Ducks tailback Reuben Droughns is a transfer from Merced College, where Borges was offensive coordinator the last four years.

Droughns suffered a broken leg against UCLA on Oct. 17 and is out for the season.

"He's the toughest kid we ever had at Merced College," Borges said. "He played five games last year with a broken thumb."

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Ron Foster, the analyst on Northridge games for KCSN-FM (88.5) and a former Matador, was the stunt double for Oakland Raiders rookie cornerback Charles Woodson during the shooting of a TV shoe commercial last week.

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The 22,411 who attended Northridge's five home games this season represented the fourth-best total in school history. The ranking was reported incorrectly Sunday.

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