Cal State Northridge's defense took a nap but linebacker Brennen Swanson made two sparkling plays on Saturday to save the Matadors from a rude awakening.
Northridge's 38-35 Big Sky Conference victory over Eastern Washington in front of 3,920 at North Campus Stadium was sheer survival, the offense barely keeping ahead of what the defense was giving up.
Which was plenty, as in 502 yards, including 404 passing by Griffin Garske.
"We got big plays [against] us because people were doing their own thing," Northridge Coach Ron Ponciano said.
Swanson, a junior who finished with nine tackles, followed the prescribed defensive plan on Eastern Washington's last two plays.
He dropped tailback Jovan Griffith for a six-yard loss to the Eagle 43 on a third-down screen pass to the right side and sacked Garske on the next play, a fourth and 11 with 1:35 to play.
"We were looking for the screen pass," Swanson said. "The whole [defensive] line was [putting] pressure on that side."
The Matadors (2-1, 2-0 in Big Sky play) ran out the clock to send home Eastern Washington (0-3, 0-2), the defending conference champion, searching for answers.
Northridge was in the same predicament throughout the game, trying to figure out how to cover Bashir Levingston, a track standout turned wide receiver.
Levingston burned the Matadors on a 95-yard scoring pass from Garske on the third play of the game, beating safety Vito Clemente, and on a 40-yard reception that put Eastern Washington ahead, 28-24, after three quarters. He made three catches for 182 yards and three touchdowns.
"I put Vito in a very difficult situation," defensive coordinator Craig Wall said. "I put him on someone who was a bit too fast."
Clemente, a senior from Crespi High, intercepted a pass by Garske in the third quarter that led to a Northridge touchdown and a 24-21 lead on a 15-yard pass from Marcus Brady to Aaron Arnold.
Six Northridge receivers combined for 19 catches and 303 yards, with Arnold's seven receptions for 86 yards and Jimmy Greninger's three for 112 yards heading the pack. Arnold had one touchdown, Greninger two.
Greninger's second score, on a 27-yard pass from Brady with 8:01 to play, proved the winner. Brady, a redshirt freshman completed 17 of 22 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns.
The lead changed hands nine times and the game was tied at 7-7 and 14-14, prompting Northridge players to wonder about the outcome.
"We kept harping on the sidelines, whoever scores last is going to win it," Brady said.
Northridge senior Melvin Blue carried 23 times for 77 yards and one touchdown.