The revolving door that is the Cal State Northridge quarterback position continued to spin out of control Saturday night, its instability contributing to a 27-12 loss to Weber State in a nonconference game.
In place of Coley Kyman, who suffered a season-ending injury in last week’s season-opening loss to San Diego State, quarterbacks Clayton Millis and J.J. O’Laughlin threw three interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown and the other two led to touchdowns.
“The quarterbacks contributed, but the whole offense was out of sync,” Northridge Coach Bob Burt said. “When your leader is new . . . Let’s face it. People look to a quarterback to lead and Coley was our leader. And when he went down, these guys have to assume a role and they haven’t been around.”
O’Laughlin, a late transfer from Illinois, has only been around six days, but he played played well enough in the fourth quarter to momentarily stop the revolving door.
On fourth down and 20 from the Weber State 35, his sharply thrown pass to the end zone was caught by Brandon Chretien. Chretien, a transfer from Santa Monica College, made a leaping catch between two defenders to pull the Matadors to within 21-6 with 12 minutes to play.
On a fourth down from the Weber State two with 1:13 to play, O’Laughlin found Duc Ngo in the middle of the end zone to make it 27-12.
O’Laughlin completed 16 of 27 passes for 165 yards. Although Millis completed only eight of 22 for 64 yards, Burt insisted that competition between Millis and O’Laughlin will continue.
“We will be a helluva lot better on offense next week than we were this week,” said Burt who felt that the Northridge defense played well enough to win.
“With the exception of a couple of series in the first quarter, I thought our defense was incredible,” he said. “We turned the ball over, blocked kicks, what else can we do?”
Northridge cornerback Ralph Henderson and linebacker Ivy Calvin maintained, however, that the defense was not as intense as it was last week when it held Heisman Trophy candidate Marshall Faulk to 170 yards.
“Despite the turnovers (by CSUN quarterbacks), it is still up to us to prevent the points,” said Henderson who made an interception, a pass deflection, and three solo tackles. “We’ve got to get better.”
Calvin, who led the Matadors with 12 tackles, eight solo, admitted that the morale of the defense dipped as the offense, which was held to 285 yards, struggled.
“It gets us way down in the huddle, because they had such a big lead,” he said. “Sometimes we wonder, ‘If we hold them, will it make a difference?’ We have faith in our offense, but it starts to dwindle.”
The faith was the strongest on the opening drive when the Matadors gained 47 of their 98 first-half yards. The drive stalled when Millis overthrew Saadite Green on first down and Ngo dropped a pass on third and five. It ended on Matt Ornelaz’s blocked 40-yard field-goal attempt.
On the Matadors’ second drive, Millis nearly threw an interception, then his pass to David Romines sailed eight yards over the receiver’s head. Four more poor throws ended the Matadors’ third and fourth possessions.
On the second play of the fifth drive, Millis’ pass hit defensive back Rob Hitchcock in the numbers--no Northridge receiver was in the vicinity--and Hitchcock returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Steve Riggs’ kick made it 14-0 with 21 seconds to play in the first quarter.
Romines did not run to the first-down marker on a third-down play on the ensuing drive, and Millis threw an interception on the third play of the next drive. Fredrick X caught the pass in stride and returned it to the end zone, but a clipping penalty gave the Wildcats possession on the Northridge 48. Although Weber State did not convert the turnover--its drive ended on Henderson’s interception--Millis was replaced on the next possession by O’Laughlin.
A fumble by Robert Trice prevented O’Laughlin from establishing himself and it set up the Wildcats’ third touchdown.
With Millis and O’Laughlin rotating plays, the Northridge offense continued to stall in the third quarter, despite great field position courtesy of Victor Myles and James Woods.
Myles blocked Riggs’ 42-yard field-goal attempt and Woods recovered on the Weber State 47. After a three-yard gain by Trice, Millis was sacked for a six-yard loss. Then, the offense was docked five yards for delay of game.
Finally, the slow-footed Millis was caught from behind and sacked for a two-yard loss. He hurt his head on the play and a combination of his dizziness and O’Laughlin’s improving performance kept him on the sideline the rest of the game.
Neither quarterback favored the shuttling situation and both insisted that the battle for the starting spot is not over.
O’Laughlin was not even surprised that he could come in late and establish himself.
“It has happened pretty fast,” he said. “But these are a bunch of great guys and they have all welcomed me.”
Weber State quarterback Rob Westervelt, a junior from Hart High, completed 15 of 40 passes for 144 yards. On the only series in which the Northridge defensive line gave him plenty of time to throw, Westervelt completed all five of his passes. The 70-yard, 11-play drive gave Weber State a 7-0 lead with 1:07 left in the first quarter. . . .
Northridge cornerback James Woods, a freshman from San Fernando High, continued to show his versatility. Last week, Woods caught a 63-yard pass on a fake punt. This time, on a fake extra-point attempt, Woods, the holder, fired a pinpoint pass to Robert Trice in the end zone, but Trice dropped it. . . .
Tight end Chris Fregeau sprained his left ankle in the first quarter and was sidelined the rest of the game. Wide receiver Victor Prince dislocated his left shoulder for the second consecutive game. Although he returned to the lineup, he appeared in only 15 plays, finishing with three catches for 33 yards.