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Northridge Has Final Crack at Mr. Roberts

College football: Matadors look to stop the elusive 5-foot-6 Cal State Sacramento running back.


NORTHRIDGE — Here he comes again.

Charles Roberts of Cal State Sacramento is no stranger to Cal State Northridge, having rushed for 438 of his NCAA Division I-AA-record 6,209 career yards in three games against the Matadors.

Acquaintances will be renewed tonight when Northridge, trying to continue a late-season turnaround, plays a Big Sky Conference game at Sacramento.

Only now, maybe the Matadors should address their adversary as Mr. Roberts.

Roberts, a senior from Montclair High, certainly has earned the respect of those who have seen him zig-zag his way toward the end zone and college football history.

Last week, Roberts rushed for 118 yards against UC Davis to eclipse the I-AA career mark of 6,193 yards established by New Hampshire's Jerry Azumah from 1995-98. He also became the I-AA career leader in carries with 1,066.

Roberts, 5 feet 6 and 170 pounds, needs 188 yards to break 1999 Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne's NCAA record of 6,396 career yards, a record he is all but assured of capturing. Roberts needs 71 yards to surpass Ricky Williams (6,279) and move into second place.

Of course, Northridge (3-5, 2-4 in Big Sky play), confident after consecutive victories over Montana State and Eastern Washington, is concerned with extending its winning streak and finishing the season with a winning record.

But that means stopping Roberts and the Hornets (5-4, 3-3).

"There is something to play for," linebacker Romeo Brooks said. "If we win our last three games, we'll have a winning season. So, this will be a big challenge for us."

Brooks, a transfer from Chaffey College, will be squaring off against Roberts for the first time. But he became aware of the electrifying back while playing at Rim of the World High in Lake Arrowhead. Roberts rushed for 1,196 yards as a senior at Montclair and was a two-time All-Southern Section selection.

"We heard all about him in high school," Brooks said. "But I had no idea he'd be one of the best backs in NCAA history."

Roberts' rise has been scrutinized since his sophomore season, when he exploded for a I-AA-record 2,260 yards, including a 231-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 35-21 victory over Northridge.

That was two years ago, the last time the Matadors visited Sacramento. They haven't forgotten.

"He's a really quick back and I'm sure he's gotten a lot faster this year," end Erik Gardner said. "But we're faster, too. We can shut him down."

Roberts also caught a touchdown pass and had an 11-yard gain off a Statue of Liberty play on a fake field goal in the 1998 game against Northridge. The game is among 13 in Roberts' career in which he has rushed for at least 200 yards.

Roberts' crowning moment was a 409-yard performance last season against Idaho State that set an NCAA game record. The No. 6 jersey Roberts wore in the game is on display at the College Football Hall of Fame.

Among the top 10 season rushing performances in NCAA history, Roberts ranks third (2,260) and 10th (2,082).

"He's a good back, true," Northridge linebacker Cos Abercrombie said. "But he's like any other back. We're not going to wrap him up with arm tackling.

"He's very fast and very short. He can get lost behind that offensive line."

Northridge ranks eighth in the Big Sky in rushing defense, but the team has played better defense in recent weeks. Players point to last season's 36-14 victory over Sacramento at Northridge in which Roberts rushed for 167 yards but did not score.

Roberts' numbers are down this season. He ranks second in the conference in rushing to Portland State's Charles Dunn with 1,280 yards and has not topped the 200-yard plateau since the season's second week.

The departure of four members of the Big Sky's most touted offensive line might have something to do with Roberts' performance.

Among the quintet affectionately known as "The Hammerheads," which paved the way for Roberts to rush for 2,082 yards last season, only center Terence Wagner, a preseason All-American, remains.

Roberts said he expected to have a tougher time this season.

"We've always had a good offensive line," Roberts said. "We still do. I think Terence Wagner is the best lineman in the league."

Northridge players spent the week focusing on Roberts and brushing up on gang tackling.

"If we don't wrap him up, we're not going to get him down," end Joseph Roberson said. "He's a very quick and very hard runner. We need to play with a lot of heart."





Today at 6:05 p.m.


Top five career rushers in the Big Sky Conference:

Name, School: Yards

x-Charles Roberts, CS Sac.: 6,209

x-Charles Dunn, Port. St.: 5,502

Charvez Foger, Nevada: 4,484

Cedric Minter, Boise St.: 4,475

Sherriden May, Idaho: 3,748




* Marcus Brady and Drew Amerson hope to lead Northridge to its third consecutive victory this season by beating long-standing rival Cal State Sacramento. D13

* Cal Lutheran's high-flying offense has a stiff test in its final home game when it faces stingy Occidental, which has best defense in SCIAC. D13

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