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MATADORS LOSE THEIR WAY; CSUN STUMBLES AT SACRAMENTO : SACRAMENTO STATE 35, CSUN 21.

Byline: Brian Dohn Daily News Staff Writer

It's a good thing Cal State Northridge bussed home, because the Matadors never would have made it through the airport metal detectors.

Not with all the lead in their feet from shooting themselves so much.

CSUN fumbled six times, had five turnovers and were victimized by a fake field goal as Sacramento State pulled the upset of the season and beat the 16th-ranked Matadors 35-21 Saturday at Hornet Field.

It was Sacramento State's second win in 20 league games since joining the Big Sky Conference. The Hornets (3-4, 1-3 Big Sky) were also on a four-game losing streak.

``We overlooked them,'' CSUN freshman linebacker Lewis Blanton said. ``I feel bad because we know we should have won. They knew we should have won. They kept saying, `You guys are hurting yourselves.' ''

The Hornets meant it on the field, but the pain of this defeat will carry further.

The loss cost the Matadors (4-2, 3-1 Big Sky) their four-game winning streak and also a wonderful chance to distance themselves from the rest of the Big Sky. Instead, it sets up a first-place showdown with Montana State (4-2, 2-1) next week in Northridge.

``It was all of us. That's why we lost,'' said CSUN running back Melvin Blue, who ran for a season-high 117 yards and two touchdowns but fumbled once. ``Players, coaches, all of us. Offense, defense, coaches. It was a total team effort.''

While much of the horror can be pinned on the four lost fumbles, Sacramento State mighty mite Charles Roberts did his best to infuriate the defense.

The 5-foot-6 sophomore running back, who entered the night second in Division I-AA with 183 yards per game, dashed for 231 yards on 41 carries. He also scored three touchdowns, including the clinching one from 4 yards to give the Hornets a 35-21 lead with 9:58 to play.

``Defenses can contain me for the first 20 or 25 carries, but once I get up to 30 or 35 the defense gets tired,'' said Roberts, who increased his season total to 1,327 yards. ``That usually happens with big backs, but maybe it's because I move so much.''

The coup de grace of the Matadors' offensive woes came after a frantic second-half rally in which CSUN pulled within 28-21 after trailing by 21 points early in the third quarter.

On a fourth-and-2, defensive back Chazz Moore batted down a ball at the line of scrimmage to give the Matadors possession on their own 37.

CSUN embarked on a drive to Sacramento State's 22-yard line late in the third quarter, which is also when center Beau Cherry left with a sprained ankle. Two plays later, CSUN quarterback Marcus Brady (20 of 29, 256 yards, three fumbles) and third-string center Thomas Gomez botched a snap and the Hornets recovered.

CSUN never did.

``There was a sliver of doubt in the game of, `Here comes Northridge,' but we didn't do it,'' CSUN coach Ron Ponciano said. ``They outcoached us in all three phases of the game and outplayed us in all three phases of the game. It's a big-time lesson for us. You cannot underestimate anyone's ability.''

To crystallize the Matadors' performance, look no further than the first five minutes of the second half.

Needing a big final 30 minutes to offset a lackluster and uninspired opening half, CSUN floundered.

On the first play from scrimmage after intermission, Blue fumbled and Sacramento State recovered. But the Hornets helped out when Scott Brown missed a 20-yard field goal.

And on the Matadors' next play from scrimmage, Geoff Snowden fumbled and Nick Donati recovered.

On the next play Roberts took an inside handoff, cut left and raced 31 yards to give Sacramento State a 28-7 lead 2:32 into the second half.

``We came in relaxed. We knew we were a better team, and they knew we were a better team and we came in and expected them to give us the game,'' Brady said. ``The fumbles, it gets you frustrated. We're out there trying to execute, but we kept losing the ball.''

CSUN vs. SAC. ST.: A CLOSER LOOK

THE HERO

Slippery Sacramento State running back Charles Roberts demonstrated why defensive coordinators will spend many sleepless nights for the next few years. The 5-foot-6 sophomore bettered his average by 48 yards as he ran for 231 and three touchdowns.

THE GOAT

Will Cal State Northridge's offense please stand? The Matadors fumbled six times, lost four of them and turned the ball over five times. Add to it 31 yards of offense during the final 22 minutes of the first half as Sacramento State built a 21-7 lead.

STAT OF THE GAME

How does five turnovers sound? How about six fumbles? Or four lost fumbles? Take your pick. Any portion of the turnover category works fine. The Matadors led the Big Sky Conference in turnover ratio and fumbled six times in its first five games. But the six fumbles isn't a school record. Twice the Matadors coughed it up seven times in a game, and lost it five times. The last was 15 years ago.

QUOTE OF THE GAME

``I'm extremely angry right now, and I have to learn to deal with that better. I cannot accept the performance put on tonight.''

- Ron Ponciano

NOTEBOOK: CSUN's Blue downplays strong outing

SACRAMENTO - Cal State Northridge's running game churned out a season-high 189 yards.

Senior running back Melvin Blue benefited the most with his first 100-yard game, going for 117 yards and two touchdowns in 20 carries.

But it wasn't enough to make Blue feel better. Not only did he lose his starting position to Jaumal Bradley, but he was part of a three-back system that also included Geoff Snowden.

``I don't like rotating that much because I can never get warm,'' Blue said Saturday after No. 16 CSUN lost to lightly regarded Sacramento State 35-21. ``I think that's why I fumbled. I hate rotating like that. A running back needs to get into the groove, but I understand Jaumal and Geoff can run the ball also.

``We have to do what we have to do to win, but I don't like rotating. But it's not my job to question authority. It's my job to make plays.''

Don't be mistaken, this was Blue's best performance since transferring to CSUN from Utah State during the summer. He ran harder and with more energy than any previous game, something he credits to a scout from the Giants he met with Monday.

``He told me I wasn't hitting the hole hard, so that kind of upset me,'' said the 6-foot, 230-pound Blue, who is being scouted as a fullback. ``Then I heard (Friday) from somebody that I was slipping to the sixth or seventh round, or free-agent status (in the draft).

``All that stuff was drilling on me inside because I know I'm a better player than I get to show out here.''

Blue has gained a team-leading 407 yards on 116 carries.

Moment of silence: There was a somber moment for CSUN's offensive line prior to the game when they found out Julio Alcala's mom, Consuelo, died Friday afternoon after a long bout with leukemia.

Alcala, CSUN's starting center, didn't make the trip to Sacramento State. In fact, he's been at his San Diego home since last Sunday.

Injury report: CSUN took a hit on defense as cornerback Mel Miller and linebacker Shayne Blakey both left the game in the third quarter with concussions and didn't return.

But the biggest injury was to center Beau Cherry, who sprained his right ankle in the third quarter and didn't return. It happened when CSUN trailed 28-21 but was driving for the tying score. Two plays later his replacement, Thomas Gomez, and quarterback Marcus Brady fumbled a snap that ended the drive.

CSUN coach Ron Ponciano said all should be healthy for next week's showdown with Montana State.

Emotional return: CSUN running backs coach Keith Borges was a defensive assistant for Sacramento State, but returning to the campus had even more meaning. He graduated from Sacramento State in 1992.

``When I came here, I came from a junior college (Los Medanos), and I actually flunked out of school, which is why I stopped playing football,'' Borges said. ``I had a severe learning disability. I had to get totally re-educated, so I went through a four-year re-education program in the junior college system. When I got here, I was married, and I was fighting that same battle, so I really didn't get a chance to enjoy the college lifestyle.''

Borges left Sacramento State before completing his course load, but returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in business.

- Brian Dohn

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Box

PHOTO LEWIS BLANTON

CSUN's freshman linebacker said his team overlooked Sacramento State, which forced five turnovers to upset the No. 16 Matadors.

BOX: CSUN vs. SAC. ST.: A CLOSER LOOK (see text)
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 18, 1998
Words:1490
Previous Article:PALMER, MORTON INJECT TROJANS : USC 42, WSU 14.
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