Harper’s Run Rescues Northridge : 32-Yard Scoring Jaunt Gives Matadors a 15-10 Win Over Sonoma State
If but for a brief moment, Lance Harper danced again.
He zigged. They zagged. They frittered away as he jittered away. Just like the old days.
And at such an appropriate time.
Cal State Northridge, so impressive in a pair of losses against Division I teams, was on the ropes against Sonoma State--Division II, non-scholarship Sonoma State.
The Matadors trailed the Cossacks by a point when Harper, a substitute at tailback for a winded Albert Fann, was handed the ball on a sweep to the left.
Harper turned the opportunity into a 32-yard touchdown run with 8:20 left to give Northridge a 15-10 victory Saturday night before 4,125 at North Campus Stadium.
It had been almost a year since Harper had made such an impact. The senior from San Fernando missed the last seven games last season after sustaining a serious knee injury.
But that was all but forgotten Saturday night.
“First home game, first touchdown, first long run of the season,” said Harper, who finished with 62 yards in eight carries.
And, on a night of firsts, the Matadors posted their first victory after losses to Cal State Long Beach and Cal State Fullerton.
So why was just about everyone--Harper being an exception--frowning afterward?
“Because they were kicking our butts,” CSUN Coach Bob Burt said.
“It’s historical with those guys,” Burt said of the Cossacks, who compete in the Northern California Athletic Conference. “They come down here and they play out of their minds. . . . Luckily we decided to play at the end of the ballgame. We did what we needed to to win.”
Northridge held a 330-166 advantage in total yardage, a 15-minute edge in time of possession and ran 20 more plays than Sonoma. The Matadors also had three turnovers and 51 yards in penalties that all seemed to occur at inopportune times.
To wit: After the Cossacks forged a 10-3 lead on a one-yard pass from Mike Zorn to Brad Frost, Northridge responded by driving from its 15 to the Sonoma 23 in 14 plays. And the Matadors failed to score.
A clipping penalty on a third-and-10 pass moved the Matadors out of field-goal range.
“We started off sluggishly, but I think once we got going we were all right,” Harper said. “Then we got the yards, but we kept making mistakes.”
Fann, CSUN’s two-time All-Western Football Conference running back, typified the Matador offense. He rushed for 107 yards in 22 carries, caught four passes for 31 yards and gained 97 yards on two kickoff returns. But he also fumbled three times, losing two.
“I told the players I was ashamed,” Burt said. “I was proud last week, but I was embarrassed tonight, the way we played the first half.
“We played our butts off the last two weeks and got beat, so I guess I’ll take it. Given a choice, I’ll take tonight because we won.”
The score was tied, 3-3, at the half. CSUN’s lone score came on a 47-yard field goal by Abo Velasco that capped the Matadors’ first possession.
Sonoma (1-1), countered with a 46-yard field goal by Ed Beaulac early in the second quarter.
Sonoma, which had only 55 yards in total offense in the second half, took the lead on Zorn’s short pass five minutes into the third quarter.
The touchdown was set up when Lenny Wagner intercepted a Sherdrick Bonner pass intended for Jason Ferguson at the CSUN 17.
Fann brought the Matadors within one with a two-yard run with 13:08 left, but Bonner was stopped short on a two-point conversion try and Sonoma clung to a 10-9 lead.
Fann also set up CSUN’s game-winning score with a 32-yard run from the Matador 22 to the Cossack 46. It was after that scamper that Harper came in to give him a respite.
“The coaches have been kind of questioning my running,” Harper said. “They were saying I wasn’t running hard enough. Coach (Mark) Banker told me not to dance before I hit the hole. Just hit the hole and go. Dance later.”
And so he did. It was a dance of celebration in the end zone.