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Cougars Go Across to La Crosse

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Published
September 13, 2007
By
Gary Pine
Azusa Pacific at Wisconsin-La Crosse
Saturday, Sept. 22
1 p.m. (CDT) - Veterans Memorial Field

Records:
Azusa Pacific -- 1-2
Wisconsin-La Crosse -- 1-0

THIS WEEK: Encouraged by it’s first victory of the season, Azusa Pacific leaves the comforts of California to take on its fourth straight nationally-ranked team when the Cougars visit the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Saturday (Sept. 15) on Veterans Memorial Field, in La Crosse, Wis. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. (CDT, 11 a.m. in California).

RADIO: Azusa Pacific’s student-run radio station KAPU will not be covering the Azusa Pacific-Wisconsin-La Crosse game. However, the game can be heard live through the UW-L radio broadcast on WKTY (580AM) with Mike Kearns and Scott Erikson calling the game.

LIVE STATS: Lives stats of the Azusa Pacific-Wisconsin-La Crosse game can be viewed on the Internet at http://www.uwlax.edu/athletics/mfootball/livestats/xlive.htm .

TICKETS: Tickets for the Azusa Pacific-UW-L game are $8 for adults/reserved and $6 for students/reserved. General admission tickets are $6 for adults and $3 general admission for youth and senior citizens.

DIRECTIONS: The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is located in western Wisconsin along the Mississippi River. The campus is about a 2-and-a-half hour drive southeast of St. Paul, Minn.

SERIES NOTES: Wisconsin-La Crosse won the only other previous meeting with Azusa Pacific, downing the Cougars, 27-10, in Azusa last year,

LAST YEAR: UW-L used 3 lengthy drives, capping each of them with TDs, to methodically put away an opportunistic set of Cougars, 27-10, after Azusa Pacific parlayed a pair of turnovers into an early 10-6 advantage.

Eagle QB John Schumann completed 18-of-30 passes for 225 yards and 1 TD, a 29-yard strike to Jason Wagner that gave UW-L a 17-10 lead with just under 3 minutes left in the first half. The Eagle offense took advantage of 8 Cougar penalties, including 4 pass interference calls, 3 of which came on UW-L’s 3 scoring drives. The Eagle defense limited Azusa Pacific to just 211 yards total offense, including a mere 86 rushing yards.

vs. NCAA DIII: Since 1996, Azusa Pacific is 40-10 vs. NCAA Division III teams and has won 15 of the past 19 meetings. The Cougars had won 13 straight over DIII foes until Wisconsin-Whitewater knocked off the Cougars, 27-7 last year. Azusa Pacific went 0-3 vs. DIII schools last year, marking the first time since DIII was established in 1973 that Azusa Pacific did not beat at least one DIII opponent.

vs. WIAC: Until last year Azusa Pacific had never played a team from Wisconsin, and now within a matter of 53 weeks the Cougars have 3 games against teams from the UW system and the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and they didn’t pick any lightweights either. Last year, on successive weekends, the Cougars played NCAA Division III Top-10 ranked (2) Wisconsin-Whitewater and (9) Wisconsin-La Crosse, losing 27-7 in Whitewater before coming home to fall to La Crosse, 27-10.

NATIONAL RANKINGS: Wisconsin-La Crosse is ranked No. 6 in this week’s D3football.com Top 25 Poll. The Eagles opened the season at No. 7 and moved up a spot after their convincing 47-21 victory at No. 11 Hardin-Simmons College in Abilene, Texas. The Eagles have appeared in 15 consecutive polls dating back to last year when they opened the season with an impressive 17-3 victory at South Dakota State to propel them into the Top 25. The Eagles are ranked No. 4 in Football Gazette’s Top 25 NCAA DIII poll.

Azusa Pacific is not ranked.

TOUGH FOES: A year ago Azusa Pacific played the most difficult schedule of any NAIA team according to atomicfootball.com. The finishing numbers on the 2006 campaign would concur. Of Azusa Pacific’s 10 opponents in 2006, 6 combined for an impressive 60-10 (.857) record. Four opponents enjoyed 1-loss seasons and another endured just 2 losses and both of them were to the same team. One opponent went on to capture the NCAA I-AA mid-major championship (San Diego) and another was the NCAA DIII runner-up (Wisconsin-Whitewater).

This year’s slate doesn’t seem to be any easier. Seven of the Cougars’ 11 foes combined for a 61-15 (.802) record last year, and their first 6 opponents – MidAmerica Nazarene (NAIA), San Diego (NCAA subdivision), Malone (NAIA), Wisconsin-La Crosse (NCAA DIII) Nicholls State (NCAA subdivision), Southern Nazarene (NAIA) -- are all nationally-ranked in their respective polls. For only the third time in program history they are playing an NCAA I-AA program with scholarship – Nicholls State, which has opened the 2007 season with victories over Rice and Southern Arkansas. In mid-October, the Cougars play back-to-back to games against NCAA Division II Humboldt State (9-1) and NCAA Division III Whitworth (11-1), which were a combined 20-2 last year.

HISTORY LESSON: Azusa Pacific nearly qualified for the 1985 NAIA playoffs but instead was kept out of the 8-team field when it dropped from No. 5 to 9 in the final NAIA poll. The school that snuck in under the Cougars was Wisconsin-La Crosse, which justified the move by going on to win the NAIA national title.

ABOUT THE COACHES: Victor Santa Cruz is in his second year at the Cougar helm and his seventh on the Cougar coaching staff. Santa Cruz, 35, was the Cougar defensive coordinator before being named the program’s ninth head coach Dec. 14, 2005. Santa Cruz picked up his first win as a head coach in last year’s 31-6 Cougar victory over Malone. He picked a rather fine place to collect that initial win — Fawcett Stadium, home of the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Larry Terry is in his eighth season as head coach of Wisconsin-La Crosse and his 14th as a head coach on the collegiate level. He has led the Eagles to 3 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) titles (2002-03-04) and guided them to 4 NCAA DIII playoff appearances, including one last year. A former ballboy for the Eagles when his dad was an assistant coach, Terry, 51, returned to the La Crosse campus as the offensive coordinator in 1988. He was named the head coach in 2000. From 1981 to 1986 Terry was the head coach at Ripon College (Wis.) where he was 25-29-1. Overall, he is 65-52-1 for his career which includes a 32-12 record since 2003.

LAST WEEK: Azusa Pacific picked up its first win of the season with a 28-21 upset of the NAIA’s No. 23-ranked Malone College of Canton, Ohio, in a game played before 2,123 in Azusa.

Senior QB Rudy Carlton continued his emergence as one of the NAIA’s better quarterbacks, completing a career-high 24-of-35 passes for 237 yards and 1 TD. He engineered 5 drives of at least10 plays and/or that covered over 55 yards. The Cougars produced a season-high 21 first downs and converted all 3 fourth-down attempts. Under his direction, the Cougar offense was also a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone. Carlton scored what proved to be the game-winning TD on a third-down, 1-yard plunge with 1:53 left in the third quarter to put Azusa Pacific up 28-21.

The Cougars, who had been victimized by turnovers in the first 2 games (all 5 turned into TDs for the foe), this time took advantage of Malone’s 3 giveaways. Junior DE Darrell Tupoula returned an interception 27 yards for a TD, and then freshman LB Jay York recovered a Malone fumble inside the Cougar 20 early in the fourth quarter as Malone appeared to be headed toward a game-tying TD.

Wisconsin-La Crosse did not play.

ROOODY, ROOODY: Now in his tenth semester and sixth year in the program, senior QB Rudy Carlton is off to what is arguably the best 3-game start to a season ever by a Cougar QB. He has completed 64-of-110 (.582)passes for 759 yards and 8 TDs against just 2 interceptions. The only other start-to-a-season effort that compares to Carlton’s performance thus far came in Brian Hunt’s 1990 school-record season when he opened the campaign by completing 65-of-129 (.504) passes for 876 yards and 6 TDs against 5 interceptions in the first 3 games of that season. Certainly, Carlton’s 3-game performance is the best 3 successive games put together by a Cougar QB since 2001 when Luke Winslow went 59-for-100 (.590) for 808 yards, 3 TDs and 6 interceptions in 3 straight mid-season games.

Carlton has now thrown for 2,527 yards and 18 TDs in his 19-game Azusa Pacific career, which has been lengthened because of 2 seasons in which he did not play (2002 redshirt and 2004 injury). He needs just 273 yards to move into tenth place on Azusa Pacific’s all-time passing chart and 473 yards to become only the ninth Cougar ever to throw for over 3,000 yards in a career.

BY THE NUMBER: Azusa Pacific has committed 6 turnovers this season and the opponent has turned 5 of them into TDs. Two giveaways went directly into scores (fumble recovery vs. MNU and interception vs. USD), 2 other turnovers came inside the Cougar 20-yard line, and 2 turnovers thwarted drives inside the opponent’s 20-yard line ... Senior RB Darnell Dodson’s 74-yard TD run vs. MidAmerica was the longest run from scrimmage by a Cougar since Ben Buys sprinted 83 yards vs. University of La Verne, Oct. 25, 2003 ... Senior WR Jordan Farrell collected a team season-high 9 receptions vs. Malone, the most catches by a Cougar since Frankie Tapia’s 11 grabs vs. Humboldt State University in 2002 ... The Cougars’ 6 QB sacks vs. Malone are the most by an Azusa Pacific defense since recording 8 vs. Dixie State College last year(10/28/07) ... Azusa Pacific is 68-53-3 all-time in games played in the month of September, and are 21-9 in September games since 2000.

CATCHING DAVIS: Junior WR Jon Davis is off the best start by a Cougar receiver since Kevin Carlson opened the 2000 campaign with 27 catches in the first 3 games, including a school single-game record 14 in the season-opener vs. San Diego. To date, Davis has 22 receptions in 3 games for 325 yards (14.8 avg.) He tied a single-game school-record vs. MidAmerica Nazarene with 4 TD receptions of 37, 5, 14 and 36 yards. The 6-foot-4 wide out had a spectacular 14-yard catch that completed a Cougar comeback from 18 down to tie the game at 31-31 early in the fourth quarter. In the second-half alone, he had 7 grabs for 105 yards and 3 TDs.

He came back against USD with a game-high 8 catches for 74 yards to again match his career-high of 8 receptions that he first tallied against Southern Oregon last year then again against MidAmerica Nazarene to start this season.

Last week against Malone, Davis registered 6 catches for 109 yards. He made a terrific over-the-shoulder 22-yard grab to set up the game-winning TD. Earlier in the game, he had 35-yard reception that eventually produced a Cougar field goal to close the first half.

Davis didn’t begin playing football until 2005. He came to Azusa Pacific in the fall of 2003 with the hope of walking onto the Cougar basketball team. He did not make the final cut but nonetheless he continued his studies at the university. Following his sophomore year he opted to try out for football for the first time ever and within 2 games he found himself on the Cougar 2-deep. His first-ever reception was a 17-yard TD catch from Carlton vs. NAIA national champion Carroll College in 2005.

He is currently working on his MBA at Azusa Pacific.

THE RETURN OF SAKIOKA: Senior WR Trent Sakioka set an Azusa Pacific record with his 77-yard punt return for TD vs. University of San Diego. It was the third TD of his 13-game Azusa Pacific career and the most ever by any Cougar. Last year Sakioka had punt returns of 69 and 71 yards for TDs in back-to-back games vs. Dixie State and Webber International. For his Cougar career he has returned 25 punts for 398 yards (15.9 avg.).

ABOUT UW-L: Wisconsin-La Crosse comes into the Azusa Pacific game well-prepared and rested. The Eagles opened their season Sept. 1 with impressive 47-21 victory at NCAA DIII No. 11-ranked Hardin-Simmons College in Abilene, Texas. The Eagles were off last week.

UW-L is picked to finish second in the WIAC behind 2-time DIII national runner-up Wisconsin-Whitewater. The Eagles have advanced to the NCAA Division III playoffs 4 of the past 5 years, including last year where Whitewater bounced them out in the second round.

The Eagles opened the season with an entirely new starting offensive backfield, including 2 quarterbacks who had yet to take a collegiate snap. That didn’t seem to matter in UW-L’s dismantling of Hardin-Simmons. Junior Griffin Moe was near-perfect in his Eagle debut, completing 17-of-20 passes for 324 yards and 4 TDs. He spearheaded an offensive attack that produced 662 yards of total offense. Eric Donoval rushed for 115 yards on just 17 carries and Reid Oldenburg added 92 yards on 11 carries to go along with 2 TDs. The Eagles put together scoring drives of 85, 78, 81, 89, 83 and 79 yards, and as a result they owned the ball more than 10 minutes more than Hardin-Simmons. They converted 10-of-13 third downs and punted just once in the game.

The only defects in La Crosse’s play were its 10 penalties and 2 fumbles, miscues that might be expected for a season-opening game.

Since 1986, the Eagles are 86-16 (.843) at home on Veterans Memorial Field. This is their final season there. A new facility will be constructed in 2008 and open for play in 2009.

SANTA CRUZ SAYS: “I have a lot of respect for La Crosse,” said Azusa Pacific football coach Victor Santa Cruz. “They do college football right. The play good, sound football. They are consistent, physical, and execute very well. They’re very well coached, and that staff is full of first-class people.

“They present a great challenge for us, and we’ll have to continue our progress. Our defense is getting better, and it’ll need to take another step up this week against a team as good as La Crosse.”