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Northridge Grounded in 55-6 Loss at Air Force

College football: Falcons amass 698 yards and shut down Matadors' passing game.

September 03, 2000|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Cal State Northridge was blasted from the wild blue yonder in its opener Saturday, shot down in flames by well-oiled Air Force, 55-6, before a characteristically raucous 50,166 at Falcon Stadium.

Before a backdrop of parachutists, screaming fighter planes, cadets performing push-ups with every score and a live Falcon soaring overhead, Northridge clearly--some would say predictably--found itself overmatched and overwhelmed against another Division I opponent.

Rocky Mountain elevation and an 11 a.m. kickoff didn't make things easier for the Matadors in their first meeting with Air Force.

Air Force out-gained Northridge, 698 yards to 227, with three of four quarterbacks guiding an impressive option offense to touchdowns.

Starter Mike Thiessen, who ranked third in rushing last season in the Mountain West Conference, led a 583-yard ground assault with 101 yards, including a 21-yard scoring run in the third quarter.

Northridge's up-tempo offense sputtered, managing only two first downs in a first half in which it failed to cross midfield as the Falcons built a 27-0 lead.

"It's a low point for the Northridge offense, certainly as long as I've been here," Coach Jeff Kearin said. "We just couldn't get anything going. We couldn't get into a rhythm. We had so many three-and-outs."

Two first-half drives ended with Northridge fumbling the ball away. Both times, Air Force converted the mistakes to touchdowns.

The Falcons led, 34-0, before Northridge ventured into Air Force territory on a pass from Marcus Brady to D.J. Hackett at the Falcon 47 late in the third quarter.

"We just couldn't execute," Brady said. "It was frustrating."

Brady, scrambling from pressure in the second half, began to connect with receivers and Northridge moved the ball with some success on two consecutive series. Brady, a junior in his third season as a starter, completed 15 of 29 passes for 102 yards and an interception.

However, Brady was only five of 12 for 27 yards in the first half and Northridge converted only one of its first nine third-down opportunities. His longest completion went for 13 yards.

Bruce Molock's 54-yard run, by far the Matadors' longest gain of the day, set up a six-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Drew Amerson on the second play of the fourth quarter. That cut the deficit to 41-6.

"Our home stadium is great," Thiessen said. "I don't know if there's a place like this in the country. The fly-bys, the parachutes, the atmosphere . . . there's just such tradition. I give Northridge credit. They played hard. They caught us off-guard with a few things they did."

Coach Fisher DeBerry of Air Force praised the Matadors' poise. And the ability of Brady.

"I really have the greatest respect in the world for their quarterback," DeBerry said. "I think he's one of the better quarterbacks that we will play against this season."

Northridge, 5-6 last season and fourth in the Division I-AA Big Sky Conference, didn't figure to have an easy time. The Matadors played two Division I opponents last season, Kansas and Southern Methodist, and were badly beaten by both.

Against Air Force, coming off a rebuilding year and a 6-5 record, the Matadors weren't expecting a pushover.

But no one expected this.

"We did certainly come here thinking we could really win this game," said Amerson, who had nine catches for 52 yards. "We had too many mental breakdowns and we took ourselves out of the game."

That only made the Falcons more into it.

Adhering to tradition, Air Force cadets emerged from the stands after every Falcon touchdown and performed celebratory push-ups behind each end zone. With the score, 7-0, cadets performed seven push-ups. By the Falcons' final score, each performed 55.

"We've done a lot for military preparedness," Kearin said jokingly. "Those poor cadets did more push-ups than I've seen in my life."

Kearin's post-game comments were sprinkled with a sense of humor as he tried to stress positives.

"I really felt, athletically, we could measure up with them," Kearin said. "I was really, really impressed with how hard they played and how well they played. Our defense faced one of the biggest challenges they'll see. That option is one of the most beautiful things I've seen in football."

Northridge plays at Southwest Texas State next weekend before opening Big Sky play in two weeks at home against Northern Arizona.

"Every game you play is a positive," Brady said. "You can learn from the mistakes you made."

Molock had 81 yards in nine carries. Punter Ethan Beck, who has attracted the attention of pro scouts, averaged 48 yards over nine punts, including one for 61 yards.

*

Jon Hicks of Air Force played, Matt Hicks of Northridge watched. Page 18

Game summary and statistics on Air Force-Cal State Northridge. Page 18

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