Robert Trice always knew there would be a night like this. His chronically strained hamstring prevented it last season and Cal State Northridge's run-and-shoot offense and formidable schedule prevented it early this season.
But there was nothing standing in Trice's way Saturday night. Given the ball, the blocking, and a secondary that could not match his speed, Trice set a school record by rushing for 259 yards in 23 carries as the Matadors trounced Sonoma State, 39-0.
Trice, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior from Rocky Point, N.C., broke the Northridge and North Campus Stadium records of 252 yards set by Tom Bonnell in 1972 against Oregon Tech.
With an impressive assortment of tackle-breaking runs, cuts and breakaway speed, Trice scored touchdowns on runs of 75, 63 and six yards and threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Duc Ngo on the halfback option.
He left the game with 8 minutes 14 seconds left after setting the record on a 14-yard sweep.
"I wasn't expecting to do that, it just happened," Trice said. "We still didn't play like we should but I guess it's fun to be in the record book. Even when I'm gone, I'll have that."
Along with Trice's brilliance, Northridge (1-3) benefited from playing at home for the first time this season, and playing against a lower division team, the Division II Cossacks (0-3).
Trice was the major benefactor of Coach Bob Burt's decision to dump the run-and-shoot offense for the two-back set, but fullback Mark Harper also gained a career-high 35 yards in nine carries.
In rolling to their first victory in the Division I-AA era, the Matadors picked on someone their own size, following three losses to schools with three times the number of scholarships.
As usual, Northridge's defense was sound, stingy, and suffocating. It made seven sacks for 53 yards in losses, forced three fumbles, held the Cossacks to 174 yards, and preserved the shutout, its first since Oct. 10, 1988, with two goal-line stands.
Defensive captain Victor Myles said the shutout was the furthest thing from the Matadors' minds. "We just wanted to win," he said. "Our offense sparked us, our special teams sparked us, some things that had been lacking. We took advantage of their mistakes and they actually gave up."
Special teams blocked one punt for a safety and another for a touchdown.
Less than two minutes into the game, wide receiver Saadite Green blocked Ken Miller's punt, knocking the ball out the end zone for a safety. Following three touchdowns by Trice, including the touchdown pass, Joe Vaughn blocked a punt and Ngo recovered it and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown and a 29-0 lead with 53 seconds left in the first half.
In the third quarter, Jason Camp kicked a 42-yard field goal and Trice ran 63 yards for a score.
"We knew he was capable of this," Northridge Coach Bob Burt said. "He's got great feet and good speed, and when he sees a seam and gets a step, he's tough to catch."
Center Greg Sorensen sensed early in the game that it would be a special night for Trice and the line.
"The coaches told us before the game to just get off the ball and hit 'em," said Sorensen, who was blocking in a more-complicated scheme the first three games of the season when the Matadors were using the run-and-shoot.
Although quarterback J.J. O'Laughlin did not throw a touchdown pass and completed just six of 21 passes for 57 yards, Burt saw progress. "The pass protection broke down a couple times and sometimes (O'Laughlin) had to run for his life, but the effort was there," Burt said.
Nickel back Robert Crosby injured his left shoulder in the first half and was replaced by Joe Vaughn. . . . Linebackers O.J. Ojomoh had 15 tackles and Angel Chavez 11. . . . Members of the Black Student Athletes Assn., including several players who quit the team because they could not afford tuition and living expenses on their partial football scholarships, picketed behind the CSUN bench in the second half.