This year’s Northridge football team knows how to play one way: fast and aggressive.
Last week, the Knights suffered a disappointing loss to former region rival Layton, but on this smoky Friday evening, Maximus Fonoti-Maikui bounced back to throw for 424 yards as the Knights held off Murray 35-27 in an entertaining nonregion matchup.
“We put our foot on the gas and never let up,” said Knights coach Andrew Fresques. “We’re always trying to make plays and we put our trust in our kids and let the chips fall where they may.”
Northridge never trailed, but also couldn’t always feel comfortable because the Knights were their own worst enemy. Despite a 619-243 advantage in total offense, they only won by eight points and had to rely on two fourth-quarter defensive stands to hold on to the win.
One reason was Northridge was guilty of 16 penalties for over 150 yards, and six of those calls came on emotionally-driven personal fouls.
The Knights were charged with a holding penalty on their first offensive play and had another five plays later but still managed to take a 7-0 lead on the 11-play drive.
Fonoti-Maikui ended the night completing 28 of 41 passes, including four scoring strikes. His last touchdown throw was a 59-yarder to Zach Smith with 5:21 left that gave the Knights the eight-point cushion.
Murray had scored just a couple of minutes earlier, but a low snap on the extra-point attempt prevented kicker Tyler Graham from connecting.
Murray also failed to move the ball on its ensuing possession, and Northridge took over at its own 10 with three minutes left. In two plays, the Knights moved the ball 30 yards but then Fonoti-Maikui made his only mistake of the night and Murray’s Jack Jensen intercepted it.
“We made some plays when we had to and we had our chances,” Spartans coach Todd Thompson said. “The way we won our first two games (blowouts), the kids might have figured this would be the same, but Northridge is a good team.”
Besides Fonoti-Maikui, the Knights also showed a deep group of receivers, led by Joshua Acord, who caught nine passes for 110 yards.
Northridge also found a few defensive heroes late in the game when it stepped up and forced a rare three-and-out series. With 1:23 left, Ashton Zaelit and Caden Strong came on a blitz and met at the quarterback, finally ending the Spartans’ undefeated season.
Thompson admitted the Spartans were likely tired from a three-hour long game, and with so many players playing both ways, they didn’t yet have the stamina that will be required to be successful when Region 6 play begins soon.
Northridge didn’t give the Spartans another chance, either, as Fonoti-Maikui went into “victory formation” and took a knee.
Murray quarterback Kyler Nielsen didn’t have the stats to match his Northridge counterpart but still completed 11 of 23 passes for 138 yards and no interceptions. Workhorse running back Lance Wightman, an accomplished weightlifter, rushed for 86 yards on 19 carries.