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Harper Comes On in a Rush for CSUN in 17-0 Victory

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Lance Harper, the incredible disappearing tailback, picked an opportune time to show up.

The Cal State Northridge junior, forced into an understudy’s roll last season, took center stage Saturday night in the Matadors’ football opener against Cal State Hayward.

Harper led all rushers with 82 yards in 13 carries and also caught a 46-yard pass as CSUN defeated Hayward, 17-0, in a nonconference game before a crowd of 4,523 at North Campus Stadium.

When it was over, Harper was left in an unusual position. He was surrounded by people, all of whom wanted to talk to him.

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As caddy to CSUN’s starting tailback, Albert Fann, Harper wasn’t used to such attention. In fact, he looked much more comfortable faced with 11 ill-tempered Hayward defenders.

“I try not to let you guys get to me,” he told the same group of reporters who normally ignore him. “If I did that, I’d get upset and wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my game. Mainly, when I see you all talking to Albert I just say, ‘That’s good for him.’ ”

Against Hayward, it was time to trade places. And Fann, who rushed for 79 yards in 18 carries, didn’t seem to mind.

“We’re the best of friends on and off the field,” Fann said of his feelings toward Harper. “I push him, he pushes me.

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Fann gained a team-high 822 yards last season as a freshman and was the top kickoff returner in Division II.

Fann, who beefed up from 205 to 221 pounds during the off-season, had trouble getting untracked against Hayward.

He had 38 yards in 8 carries in the first half but 21 came on one run.

Then, midway through the third quarter, he had to be helped off the field because of cramps in his calves.

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Enter Harper, a 5-foot, 10-inch, 165-pound junior from San Fernando. On the next play, Harper broke loose on a 19-yard run.

The drive stalled when quarterback Sherdrick Bonner fumbled on the ensuing play, but Harper’s bolt into the secondary was a preview of things to come.

On CSUN’s next possession Harper gained 42 yards in 7 carries and culminated a 10-play, 66-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown dive that capped the night’s scoring.

“At first, I was kind of worried because my groin got messed up in practice, but it felt pretty good once I got out there running around,” Harper said.

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Harper’s performance seemed to spark the team--and a certain All-Western Football Conference tailback in particular.

After returning to action at the start of the fourth quarter, Fann seemed to click into high gear.

“The first time around I was waiting for my blocks,” Fann said. “In the second half I said, forget it, I’m not waiting for my blocks. I’m coming at you.”

Ditto for the Northridge offense in general. In the first half, with quarterback Rob Huffman at the helm, the Matadors gained 162 yards but led only 3-0 on a 37-yard field goal by Abo Velasco.

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Bonner took over in the second half and the offense seemed to hit its stride.

The credit, several players on offense said, should go to offensive coordinator Rich Lopez, who delivered a--shall we say fiery?--halftime speech.

Said Lopez: “Just say what I said I said with intensity in order to get our guys worked up to play with intensity.” Whatever, it worked.

Northridge made it 10-0 by driving 47 yards in 8 eight plays on its first possession of the second half.

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Bonner ran it in from five yards for the touchdown.

CSUN took control of the game from there, forcing turnovers on Hayward’s next two possessions.

Eric Treibatch and Reggie Williams did the honors, each pulling in interceptions.

The Northridge defense, led by Treibatch and tackle Anthony Birts, held Hayward to 209 yards in offense--87 in the second half. It was the Matadors’ first shutout since the second game of last season.

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The only score of the first half came on a Velasco’s field goal with 3:17 left in the second quarter.

A 46-yard pass from Huffman to Harper--the longest play from scrimmage in the half--set up the scoring play.

Huffman, who played the first half, completed 5 of 10 passes for 122 yards. Bonner played the second half before giving way to Chris Folsom with six minutes remaining.

Bonner competed 3 of 5 passes for 58 yards.

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