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Coming Close Is Getting Stale for Coach Keele

Times Staff Writer

Through the ups and downs of the first seven weeks of the season, Cal State Northridge football Coach Tom Keele had been as solid, unyielding and impenetrable as the bread rolls served aboard commercial airplanes.

When his Matadors won, he never gloated. When they lost, he never criticized them.

He almost crumbled Oct. 5 when his Matadors led Cal State Hayward, 20-5, in the fourth quarter then lost the game, 25-20. But he steadied himself and leveled no charges. Finally, following last week’s nose-dive in Davis, when his Matadors led the NCAA’s second-ranked Division II team at halftime and were within five points late in the game before losing by 19, Keele had seen enough. He fumed about his team’s inability to win the big game and its inability to keep a lead.

Wednesday, Keele was still fuming.

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“I think we’re a good football team and the guys know how to play hard,” Keele said. “But now they have to learn how to win those close games. I’m sick of losing. I’m sick of telling my players that I’m satisfied with their effort, that they played with a lot of intensity. I’m not satisfied with that any more. We have to win. That’s all there is to it.

“We should have beaten Hayward and we should have beaten Davis. It hurts to know that we’re so close and yet we can’t put these teams away. Davis is supposed to be the No. 2 team in the United States, and we were right with them for 50 minutes. It sure wasn’t a mismatch.

“But somehow the other team is always the one doing the right things in the final minutes. Well, that’s got to stop. From now on it has to be us doing the right things, getting the big plays, down the stretch.”

The Matadors, 4-4 overall and 1-1 in the Western Football Conference, get a chance to toss a bucket of cold water on their steaming coach Saturday night when they face the University of Santa Clara, a team with a mere 7-1 record, in a conference game at North Campus Stadium. It will be CSUN’s final home game of the season, surely a depressing thought for the estimated 27,000 CSUN students who have yet to see their team play.

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Sacramento State, which will visit Cal Lutheran on Saturday, leads the conference in total offense and and total defense. The Hornets’ offense averages 434 yards per game and 6.3 yards per play. The defense has allowed only 317 yards per game.

“They are the most physical team in the conference,” said Cal Lutheran Coach Bob Shoup, whose team is 0-3 in the WFC and 4-4 overall.

The ground game is Sacramento’s specialty. The Hornets (2-1 in conference, 6-2 overall) are ranked 14th in Division II, have rushed for 55 more yards per game (238.8) than any other WFC team and have allowed only 105.3 yards per game rushing. Freshman halfback Don Hair leads the Hornets with 776 yards on 117 carries and fullback Mark Shutz isn’t far behind with 507 yards on 79 carries.

“We know Sacramento will run,” Shoup said. “I figure they will score 28 points. We’ll just have to score 31.”

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Why not 29? Maybe Shoup has bet on his team with a three-point spread.

A positive byproduct of the series of severe injuries to Cal Lutheran players is that several young players are gaining valuable playing time.

“Considering our youth and inexperience,” Shoup said, “we are gaining the confidence that we can compete against the rest of the WFC. There is no reason for us to be intimidated or awed by Sacramento.”

Freshman Denny Blackburn and sophomore Blake Helm have filled in well for injured linebackers.

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“Blackburn is a gutty, gutty guy and one of our most intelligent defensive players,” Shoup said. “And we also are really pleased with Helm.”

Sacramento State quarterback Greg Knapp is getting a second shot at the starting spot.

After early-season losses to Cal State Hayward and Santa Clara, Coach Bob Mattos replaced Knapp with the more mobile Angelo Oliva. In last week’s 28-27 win over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, however, Oliva went down with a possible season-ending knee injury and was replaced by Knapp, who has completed 62 of 113 passes for 767 yards this season.

“Knapp runs the team well and has the capability to throw long passes,” Shoup said. “Oliva scared me more because he added the dimension of rolling out of the pocket.”

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Of course, what Knapp and Oliva do most often is hand the ball to Hair and Shutz.

The CSUN Athletic Hall of Fame gets six new members Nov. 21. Five of them participated in sports at the school.

The athlete inductees are Olympic high jumper Pam Spencer-Marquez, former standout basketball player Mark Cooley, four-time All-America swimmer Bruce Dodge, seven-time national swimming champion Craig Dinkel and former professional baseball player Marty Friedman.

The sixth person to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the ceremony at the Calabasas Inn, Virginia White, is described in a school news release as a “longtime athletic department secretary.”

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Wonder if she was ever penalized 15 yards for paper-clipping?


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