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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Mac Hed

Football: Downtrodden Idaho State rallies at finish to knock Northridge out of first place in conference and probably out of playoffs, 32-29.

November 22, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

POCATELLO, Idaho — All that stood in the way was a doormat of a team with a lame-duck coach.

All Cal State Northridge had to do for its first Big Sky Conference title, or any kind of legitimate football championship, was brush aside Idaho State on Saturday night.

Pretty simple, right?

Tell that to the Bengals, who upset Northridge, 32-29, in front of 4,151 at Holt Arena, knocking the Matadors from a first-place tie with Montana and likely out of the Division I-AA playoffs.

The Matadors (7-4, 5-3 in Big Sky play) finished tied for second place in the conference with Montana State.

Pairings for the 16-team tournament will be announced today, with champion Montana getting the Big Sky's berth. The Grizzlies defeated Montana State, 28-21, on Saturday.

"I don't anticipate [Northridge getting in]," Coach Ron Ponciano said. "By the system [being] the way it is, we had to win this one. We knew that."

Northridge seemed to have the game won with 1:28 to play, when Marcus Brady hit Aaron Arnold. who caught 10 passes for 156 yards, on a 10-yard quick slant for a 29-24 lead.

Brady's two-point conversion pass failed.

The drive covered 79 yards in 14 plays and the Matadors converted two third-down plays and one fourth-down play.

"I pretty much guaranteed the game was over," said Brady, who completed 28 of 44 passes for 312 yards and three touchdowns. "It wasn't meant to be."

Idaho State (3-8, 2-6), playing for the last time under fired Coach Tom Walsh, answered with an improbable four-play, 80-yard drive to sink Northridge.

It started with 1:25 remaining and Seth Burford's 55-yard pass to Brian Goodell, who beat Mel Miller along the right sideline to give the Bengals a first down at the Northridge 25.

"We just wanted a short [pass] to the outside, a 10-yarder," Burford said. "Then I saw man coverage . . . and we knew we could get the ball on top with our receivers."

A pass-interference call against Donnell Day on the next play moved the ball to the Matador 10. Three plays later, Burford found receiver DeRonn Finley on a three-yard pass to the right corner of the end zone and the Bengals led, 32-29, with 32 seconds to play.

Brady's third-and-nine desperation pass from Northridge's 45 into a crowd of players in the end zone fell to the ground as time expired.

"[Idaho State] played with a lot of emotion," running back Jaumal Bradley of Northridge said. "This loss really, really burns."

The Bengals entered the game last in virtually every statistical category in the Big Sky but outgained Northridge, 444 yards to 368. Idaho State sacked Brady five times.

"We needed to get on them early and we didn't do that," Ponciano said.

Idaho State got the early jump.

The Bengals took a 3-0 lead on Pete Garces' 60-yard field goal late in the first quarter, tying the Big Sky record set by Terry Belden of Northern Arizona against Northridge in 1993.

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