Before Saturday, only two other Cal State Northridge football teams ventured to America’s Heartland. The Matadors might return some day. Then again, maybe not.
In a nonconference game they should have dominated, the Matadors edged Southwest Missouri State, 42-38, in a front of 7,574 on a cool afternoon at Plaster Field to keep alive their playoff hopes.
The Matadors (7-3) are virtually guaranteed a spot in the 16-team NCAA Division I-AA playoffs if they win at Idaho State on Saturday. Victory would give Northridge a share of the Big Sky Conference championship and perhaps the conference berth.
“We shot ourselves in the foot, to tell you the truth,” said Aaron Arnold, Northridge receiver. “I think we should have had 40 points at halftime.”
Marcus Brady, the Matadors’ redshirt freshman quarterback, did his part, completing 34 of 40 passes for a career-high 466 yards and four touchdowns.
“They were going man [on defense] a lot and I feel nobody can go man against our receivers,” said Brady, who did not throw an interception for the first time in seven games. “The [offensive] line was giving me time to get my second and third reads.”
Brady threw to eight receivers, including Drew Hill, who had nine catches for 124 yards, and Arnold, who finished with five for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Arnold’s first scoring pass came with the score tied, 7-7, early in the second quarter. He took advantage of blown coverage by the Bears (5-5) for 69 yards and the longest reception by Northridge this season.
Cornerback Chazz Moore intercepted a pass by Derek Jensen on Southwest Missouri State’s next possession and Brady hit Jaumal Bradley on an 11-yard swing pass for a 21-7 lead with 10:51 left in the half.
While Brady dismantled the Bears, Northridge couldn’t contain Maurice Daniels, who carried 30 times for 248 yards, busting through repeatedly behind an offensive line that manhandled the Matadors. He had runs of 51, 33 and 22 yards but no touchdowns.
The final nail on four of the six scores by the Bears was hammered by Jensen, who was 11 of 23 for 175 yards and four touchdowns.
“We were hoping to get into a passing tournament with them, but they were running the ball too well on us,” Coach Ron Ponciano of Northridge said.
The Matadors led, 21-14, at the half but trailed, 35-28, after a wide-open Chance Thurman caught a 26-yard pass from Jensen early in the fourth quarter.
Northridge pulled even on Brady’s four-yard slant pass to Anthony Ramos with 11:39 to play. The score was set up by Arnold’s 44-yard reception that put the Matadors at the Bear five.
Southwest Missouri State went ahead, 38-35, on Travis Brawner’s 40-yard field goal with 6:51 left, but the Matadors answered.
On an eight-play, 67-yard drive highlighted by Brady’s 20- and 22-yard passes to Bradley, the Matadors scored the final points on Brady’s 23-yard pass to Arnold on a post pattern with 3:32 to go.
Then Northridge’s defense stiffened. Brennen Swanson sacked Jensen for a five-yard loss on second and two from the Matador 45 and Shawnbay Jones followed with a three-yard sack. On fourth down, Jensen’s pass fell short.
“Sometimes we don’t understand we need that intensity all the time,” Swanson said of the defense. “Sometimes we get too confident.”