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Cougars Inked for First Down Classic

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April 30, 2007
Gary Pine
AZUSA, Calif. –- Azusa Pacific has agreed in principal to play in the inaugural Victory Sports Network First Down Classic against NAIA rival MidAmerica Nazarene University of Olathe, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 25, in Platte City, Mo. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. (PDT).

The First Down Classic is 1 of 2 games being added to the originally-released Cougar 2007 schedule. Azusa Pacific will also travel to NCAA Division I-AA Nichols State University in Thibodaux, La., Saturday, Sept. 22 for a 12 p.m. (CDT) game vs. Colonels.

The 2 additional contests push the Cougar slate to 11 games, matching the 2004 agenda as the largest regular-season schedule in program history.

“We pride ourselves on playing challenging and exciting schedules,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Victor Santa Cruz. “I don’t think there is a program in the nation that travels quite as much as we do, but our guys really look forward to the road trips, and I think these are 2 trips are going to be great times for us.”

The creation of Victory Sports Network founder Jason Dannelly, the First Down Classic kicks off the 2007 season with a match-up between a pair of perennial NAIA powers, Azusa Pacific and MidAmerica Nazarene. At least 1 if not both of the 2 programs have qualified for the NAIA Football Championship Series in 7 of the past 9 years. In fact, this year’s Victory Sports Classic will be a rematch of a 2000 NAIA opening round playoff game in which MidAmerica Nazarene downed Azusa Pacific, 27-21, in Olathe.

The game will also pit former Cougar player and assistant coach Jed Stugart against his alma mater. Stugart, who played for the Cougars in 1991 and 1992 and then served on head coach Jim Milhon’s staff during the 1993 campaign, is in his second season as the head coach at MidAmerica Nazarene.

In traveling to Nichols State, Azusa Pacific is taking on just the second NCAA Division I-AA scholarshipped opponent in program history. Two years ago, the Cougars lost at Sacramento State, 41-19. This is Azusa Pacific’s first-ever trip to Louisiana.

“What a terrific opportunity for our guys to be playing at Nicholls State,” said Santa Cruz. “It’s an opponent that is going to challenge us in every facet in the game, and the fact that we’re in Wisconsin the week before means we will be traveling a lot in an 8-day stretch.

Last year Azusa Pacific played games in Ohio, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Washington and Oregon. This year, the Cougars return to Wisconsin, and add first-ever trips to Missouri, Louisiana, and Florida while playing in Utah for the first time since 1972.

“That’s the life of an independent,” said Santa Cruz with a smile about the Cougars’ travel schedule. “While I try to tailor a schedule that pushes us and is interesting, at the same time you have grab certain opportunities when they are presented. These last 2 games we’ve added are too good of opportunities to pass on.”

Click here to view the entire Azusa Pacific 2007 football schedule.