Cal State Northridge seemed determined to win the hard way Saturday against Weber State.
And the Matadors did, pulling out a 30-28 Big Sky Conference victory when Marcus Brady connected with Gil Rodriguez for a 13-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds to play before 3,208 at North Campus Stadium.
Northridge (5-3, 4-2 in conference play) won for the third time in four games and kept pace with Eastern Washington, a 26-21 winner Saturday over Cal State Sacramento, in a tie for third in the Big Sky.
But the Matadors couldn’t have cut it closer, squandering a 17-0 lead and surviving six turnovers, including three in the second half.
Four lengthy second-half drives, including a 98-yard march, produced no points before Northridge drove 95 yards in the final 2:56 for the winning score.
“We should be proud we won, hanging in their till the bitter end,” Kearin said. “A win is a win is a win and we’ll take it.
“The mistakes are alarming but maybe a lot of that is on me. We’ve been getting kind of routine in our practices and that’s what happens when you get casual.”
Brady, who completed 38 of 62 passes for 358 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions, completed 15 passes to Drew Amerson, the Matadors’ leading receiver.
Two of Brady’s four completions on the final drive went to Amerson, his roommate and former teammate at San Diego Morse High.
But on fourth and three, Brady threw the Wildcats a curve by firing a strike in the end zone to Rodriguez.
“I gave them three quick steps to the outside and they bit,” Rodriguez said. “And sure enough, Marcus saw it. I knew Marcus would throw it to me if I was open.”
The reception was one of only two for Rodriguez, a 5-foot-8 junior who caught the first touchdown pass of his career with the Matadors against Idaho State this season at Northridge.
“There isn’t a guy on this staff who doesn’t feel comfortable throwing the ball to Gil in that situation,” Kearin said.
Said Rodriguez: “I know I’m not the go-to guy, but I know my role. I know I still have to get open.
“I think the defense won the game for us. They kept their composure and kept us in the game while the offense made a lot of mistakes. I just made an easy catch.”
For a while, it appeared the Matadors’ comeback bid was doomed to fail. Northridge nearly took the lead with seven minutes to play, driving from its one-yard line to the Weber State 13 before fullback Jaumal Bradley bolted toward the end zone on a draw play.
Defenders bounced off Bradley as he neared the goal line, but the ball squirted loose before he tumbled into the end zone. Cardedrick Foreman of Weber State recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
Northridge protested the call. Bradley, who rushed for a career-high 132 yards in 22 carries, insisted he scored.
“I was way in,” Bradley said. “I didn’t even think to go after the ball, that’s how in I was. I thought, ‘Oh, no, am I going to be the scapegoat for this?’ ”
Bradley would have had to fight for the title. Brady accounted for four turnovers, including a fumble at the Weber State 17 that ended Northridge’s first drive of the second half.
Brady had a pass intercepted at the Weber State 32 to end the next Matador drive.
“Marcus did not have his best game,” Kearin said. “He fired some bad balls but they did a good job on defense.”
Before having a pass intercepted in the first quarter, Brady had thrown 138 passes without an interception, a span of more than two games.
“I was forcing it,” Brady said. “I was thinking I could just muscle it in with my arm strength.”
Weber State (3-6, 2-4) closed to with 24-19 at halftime and took a 28-24 lead in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
Cole Cooper threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Christian Frech and Mike Minnoch kicked a 35-yard field goal.