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Titans Not Overwhelming, but They Win : College: Fullerton beats Division II Northridge, 17-10, to end nation’s longest Division I-A losing streak.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some unusual sights in Santa Ana Stadium Saturday afternoon:

--Cal State Fullerton defensive coordinator Kirk Harmon walking off the field with a huge grin, and Titan cornerback Darrius Watson heading to the locker room with an even bigger smile.

--Two Fullerton running backs rushing for more than 100 yards each. It had never happened in Titan Coach Gene Murphy’s 12-year tenure.

--Fullerton passing for only 28 yards, the fewest in the Titans’ 22-year history.

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--And, last but not least, a Fullerton victory.

The Titans beat Cal State Northridge, 17-10, in front of 2,921, ending at 13 what had been the nation’s longest Division I-A losing streak. Fullerton hadn’t won since a 38-24 victory over Sonoma State in the 1990 season opener.

It wasn’t very pretty--the Titans fumbled four times, were intercepted twice, missed a field goal, botched a punt, and redshirt freshman quarterback Chad May didn’t sparkle in his first college start.

It wasn’t very flashy--Fullerton relied on an old-fashioned, up-the-gut ground attack, with Reggie Yarbrough gaining 138 yards in 33 carries and Arthur Davis adding 133 yards and scoring two touchdowns in 29 carries. A pitch to a back on a sweep play was about as daring as the Titans got.

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But Murphy didn’t care.

“We won ugly, and you know what? That’s fine,” Murphy said. “I love it.”

So did Watson, the sophomore cornerback who was burned so often last season that he could have changed his name to Delirious. Opponents averaged 304 yards passing against the Titans in 1990, and Watson, then a redshirt freshman who was moved from safety to cornerback, took his share of lumps.

Saturday he dished them out, stopping one fourth-quarter drive with an interception at the Fullerton 32-yard line and then intercepting a pass in the end zone with 1:18 remaining to preserve the Titans’ victory.

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Trailing, 17-10, with 2:17 left, Division II Northridge (1-2) drove from its 14-yard line to the Titan 15, the big play being Marty Fisher’s 35-yard pass to Paul Peters. Fisher again tried to go to Peters on a slant pattern, but Watson stepped in front of the intended receiver for the interception at the goal line and fell into the end zone for a touchback.

“I’ve been waiting for a pick and a win for a long time,” Watson said. “I feel good right now. I feel like going out there and tearing down the goal posts.”

Watson’s game-saver was reminiscent of the 1989 Fullerton-Northridge game, in which Terry Tramble’s interception in the end zone with 3:09 remaining preserved the Titans’ 27-20 victory.

Watson’s interception was one of several big defensive plays for the Titans, who didn’t make many last season or in two losses this season. Fullerton (1-2) entered the game with only one sack but had three Saturday, including two by J.C. Farrow. The Titans also had seven tackles for losses after totaling six in the two previous games.

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Fullerton allowed an average of 40 points and 507 yards last season and had given up 88 points losses to Mississippi State (47-3) and Texas Tech (41-7) this season. Saturday, the Titans allowed 263 yards.

No wonder Harmon and his defensive players were beaming.

“I haven’t had this feeling in a long time, so who knows what we’re going to do to celebrate?” said linebacker Teddy McMillan, who had eight tackles. “This is definitely an emotional win for us.”

It also was a come-from-behind win. Northridge scored first when wide receiver Cornell Ward took a handoff on a reverse and passed 33 yards to Peters for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 5:12 left in the first quarter.

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Fullerton, with the help of two 15-yard Matador penalties, came back on its next possession to score the tying touchdown, Davis’ 10-yard run on a draw play as time ran out in the first quarter.

Northridge dropped Yarbrough for a one-yard loss on a third-and-eight play from the Titan 37, but a late hit gave Fullerton a first down. Later in the drive, a personal foul gave the Titans a first down on the Matador 11.

May, who completed only three of 14 passes for 28 yards, came up with his biggest play of the game late in the second quarter, a 24-yard pass to Anthony Pack to the Northridge 43.

Davis then ran 41 yards on a draw play and, with eight seconds left in the half, capped a 10-play, 90-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run. The 2-minute 15-second scoring drive gave Fullerton a 14-7 halftime lead.

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Dan Eastman’s 29-yard field goal with 3:42 left in the third quarter pulled Northridge to 14-10. The Matadors appeared to take the lead when Peters returned a punt 96 yards for a touchdown, but it was nullified because of a clipping penalty.

Phil Nevin, who missed a 31-yard field goal attempt midway through the fourth quarter, closed the Titan scoring with a 44-yarder with 2:21 to play.

“Believe it or not, this is big, but it’s not that big,” Murphy said, putting the day in perspective. “It’s big for me personally, but it’s bigger for the players. Don’t get me wrong--I’m not a masochist, and I enjoy this big time. But we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Notes

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Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy and Northridge Coach Bob Burt, who spent six seasons (1980-85) as Murphy’s defensive coordinator, walked arm-in-arm off the field after the game. “It’s a good news-bad news thing,” Murphy said. “He was the first guy I hired on my staff in 1980, I was just at his 50th birthday party and we’re good friends. I feel good for me and bad for Bob.” . . . Murphy kicked a University of the Pacific scout off his sideline before the game. It’s against NCAA rules to scout a future opponent from the sideline. “Apparently the guy didn’t graduate from U of P,” Murphy said. . . . Pooh Jenkins, a 6-2, 270-pound offensive lineman from Glendale College, became academically eligible last week and might make the trip to Georgia next week, Murphy said. . . . Special teams player Mike Gullo appeared to suffer a serious knee injury in the first quarter but returned later in the game. . . . Northridge cornerback Tremelle Barnes and linebacker Ken Vaughn each had interceptions, bringing the Matadors’ total to 11 in three games. . . . Northridge receiver Paul Peters, a former standout at Santa Ana Valley High School and Rancho Santiago College, caught three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown.


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