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Matadors Flag Down Home Victory

College football: Northridge wins for first time this season on home field when Eastern Washington has winning touchdown nullified by penalty.


NORTHRIDGE — Nothing comes easily this season for Cal State Northridge.

That included the Matadors' first home victory Saturday, a 31-26 Big Sky Conference nail-biter over Eastern Washington before 2,879 at North Campus Stadium.

Bolstered by a season-high 337 yards passing from Marcus Brady and 12 receptions by Drew Amerson, Northridge (3-5, 2-4 in Big Sky play) grabbed a second-quarter lead and held it to the finish--save for the Eagles' apparent go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds.

With six seconds to play, Fred Salanoa connected with Kyler Randall on a 13-yard scoring pass, capping a whirlwind 57-yard drive in the final 45 seconds that appeared to put the Eagles on top.

However, the play was nullified by an illegal shift penalty, sparing the Matadors--losers of their last two home games by a total of five points--another devastating setback.

For Northridge, scheduled to leave the Big Sky in favor of independent status next season, the outcome made for a heartwarming homecoming.

The penalty on the touchdown appeared obvious, especially to Northridge Coach Jeff Kearin. Still, the would-be score did little to soothe his nerves in a game that see-sawed in the second half.

"As the play was progressing, I didn't have much apprehension," Kearin said. "But still, you never know."

Salanoa and Randall connected again on the next play but Randall was stopped at the 12-yard line as time expired.

"The whole team won this game," linebacker Cos Abercrombie said. "We really needed to win one at home. I'm really big on that. I've don't like to lose at home."

Northridge, playing its final Big Sky home game, erased a 6-0 first-quarter lead by Eastern Washington (4-5, 3-3) on a nine-yard touchdown run by Brady that gave the Matadors a 7-6 lead.

Brady completed 36 of 54 passes, including two touchdowns to Amerson, and kept the Eagles playing catch-up. Brady's 11-yard scoring pass to Amerson late in the half gave Northridge a 14-6 lead.

Both Northridge touchdowns in the first half were set up by turnovers. Jason Nicastro's sack of Salanoa at midfield caused a fumble and Andy Zaldivar recovered for the Matadors.

The Eagles' next drive ended when Martin Bacon recovered a fumble by Lamont Brightful at the Matadors' 36-yard line.

"We needed to win one at home," Brady said. "We haven't been able to win at home so we needed to get the victory."

Brady continued his habit of finding Amerson over the middle.

"He gets open," Brady said simply. "I look for him and I usually find him."

Amerson, who leads Northridge with 42 receptions, accounted for 112 receiving yards. Brady, who passed for a career-high 484 yards last season against Eastern Washington, spread his completions among eight receivers.

D.J. Hackett had seven catches, including two third-down grabs. Cory DiSanti and Gil Rodriguez each had four catches.

Brady led Northridge with 65 yards rushing in 13 carries.

"We spread it out all over the field, so he has a lot of people to go to," Amerson said.

Eastern Washington kept close in the second half.

Salanoa threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Shaylon Reed late in the third quarter to pull the Eagles to within 14-12. Brady answered with a one-yard run that gave Northridge a 21-12 lead.

Brightful's 61-yard touchdown run on a reverse late in the third cut the margin to 21-19. On Northridge's next series, Brady connected with Amerson on a three-yard scoring pass and Northridge led, 28-19.

Salanoa's one-yard touchdown run pulled the Eagles to within 28-26 early in the fourth.

"I feel good because they're a good team and we moved the ball against them," Kearin said. "I was afraid it would be an exciting game."

Northridge appeared to settle the issue with 2:33 to play when Brightful mishandled Ethan Beck's towering punt and Peter Keus recovered for Northridge at the Eagles' 25.

After five running plays and a first down, Derek Brown kicked a 25-yard field goal to give Northridge a 31-26 cushion.

That set the stage for the finale.

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