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Going Deep In The South

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September 19, 2007
Gary Pine
Azusa Pacific at Nicholls State
Saturday, Sept. 22
Thibodaux, La., -- Noon (CDT)

Azusa Pacific – 1-3
Nicholls State – 2-1

THIS WEEK: For the second consecutive week and the third time this season Azusa Pacific leaves the comforts of the Golden State and travels to the deep south to take on NCAA Division 1 FCS Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., just west of New Orleans. Kickoff is set for noon (CDT) in John L. Guidry Stadium.

RADIO: Azusa Pacific’s student-run radio station KAPU will not be covering the Azusa Pacific-Nicholls State game. However, the game can be heard live through the Nicholls State radio broadcast on KBZE (105.9FM) with Ken Berthelot and Seth Thomas calling the action.

LIVE STATS: Lives stats of the Azusa Pacific-Nicholls State game may be available on the Internet at pending the solution of software challenges this week.

TICKETS: Tickets for the Azusa Pacific-Nicholls State game can be ordered through the Nicholls State ticket office at (985) 448-4792.

DIRECTIONS: Nicholls State is located at 906 East 1st Street, Thibodaux, La., 70310, about 70 miles west of New Orleans.

SERIES NOTES: This is the first-ever meeting between Azusa Pacific and Nicholls State.

400th GAME: The contest at Nicholls State will be Azusa Pacific’s 400th game in the program’s 43-year history. The Cougars first football game was Oct. 2, 1965, vs. Taft Junior College, then a feeder program to USC. The Cougars lost 47-0. The following week they played their first 4-year opponent and beat Caltech, 28-0, in a game played at Duarte (Calif.) High.

Azusa Pacific enters the Nicholls State game with an all-time record of 208-185-6 (.529). Since the Cougars’ 1998 NAIA national championship season, they are 69-34 (.670)

Azusa Pacific Milestone Games
Game 100 10/16/76 vs. Redlands L 9-14
Game 200 10/10/87 at San Diego W 23-18
Game 300 10/3/98 vs. Chapman W 26-21

THE DEEP SOUTH: Azusa Pacific’s venture this week to Thibodaux, La., is the farthest south the Cougars have ever traveled to play a game. Their only other game into the south came in the 1998 NAIA championship game when they beat Olivet Nazarene University, 17-14, in Savannah, Tenn., just north of the Mississippi border.

vs. NCAA FCS: Nicholls State is the third NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) scholarship school to ever play Azusa Pacific.

The Cougars annually play University of San Diego, a FCS program that does not offer scholarships. The first FCS scholarship program to play Azusa Pacific was Cal State Northridge in 1997 followed by Sacramento State in 2005. The Cougars lost both games on the road, falling to CSUN, 63-21, and Sacramento State, 41-19,

NATIONAL RANKINGS: Nicholls State has been nationally-ranked since it’s season-opening victory at Rice. This week, the Colonels are ranked No. 17 in the Sports Media Entertainment Network Poll, and No. 29 in the Football Gazette weekly poll.

Azusa Pacific is not ranked.

TOUGH FOES: A year ago Azusa Pacific played the most difficult schedule of any NAIA team according to 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 seems 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 FCS), Malone (NAIA), Wisconsin-La Crosse (NCAA DIII) Nicholls State (NCAA FSC), Southern Nazarene (NAIA) -- are all nationally-ranked in their respective polls. 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.

ON THIS DATE: Azusa Pacific is 3-1-1 all-time in games played on Sept. 22. Most recently the Cougars downed Whittier College, 31-12, at home on 9/22/01. It was their first game following the 9/11 terrorist attacks that forced the cancellation of the Cougars’ Sept. 15th game vs. Rocky Mountain College in Billings. Mont., due to FAA flight restrictions.

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.

Jay Thomas is in his fourth season at Nicholls State where he has fashioned a 17-17 record to date. A Baker, La., native, Thomas was the 2005 Southland Conference coach of the year after leading the Colonels to a 6-4 record and only the third NCAA Division I-AA playoff appearance in school history. Now in his 11th year on the Colonel coaching staff, Thomas came to Nicholls State from Southeast Missouri State where he spent 6 years as an assistant coach. He is a 1988 grad of Southern Mississippi.

LAST WEEK: Azusa Pacific dropped a heartbreaker at NCAA Division III No. 6-ranked Wisconsin-La Crosse, 27-20, in overtime. Eagle running back Dan Hall rushed for 137 yards and 3 TDs, including the game-winner on a 9-yard scamper in the first overtime.

The Cougars forced OT when senior QB Rudy Carlton hit junior WR Jon Davis in stride for a 41-yard TD strike with just 38 seconds left in regulation. The score completed a Cougar comeback from a 20-3 deficit early in the fourth quarter.

Azusa Pacific shot itself in the foot with a 2 turnovers on its first 4 plays of the game and with just 6 points produced out of 4 drives inside the UW-L 20. The Cougars out-gained UW-L 344 to 312 in total offense.

Nicholls State, ranked No. 18 in NCAA FCS, suffered its first loss of the season, falling at Nevada-Reno, 52-17. The Colonels led 10-0 after the first quarter but then surrendered 38 consecutive points to fall behind 38-10 less than 5 minutes into the second half.

The Colonels picked off 3 UNR passes, including 2 early in the game that allowed Nicholls State to take the early lead. NSU rushed for 211 yards and attempted just 1 pass on the day which was not completed.

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 78-of-145 (.538)passes for 967 yards and 9 TDs against 4 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 91-of-176 (.504) passes for 1,212 yards and 7 TDs against 6 interceptions in the first 4 games of that season. Certainly, Carlton’s 4-game performance is the best 4 successive games put together by a Cougar QB since 2001 when Luke Winslow went 81-for-133 (.590) for 1,076 yards, 6vTDs and 6 interceptions in games vs. Cal Lutheran, Humboldt State, Menlo and La Verne.

Carlton has now thrown for 2,735 yards and 19 TDs in his 20-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 65 yards to move into tenth place on Azusa Pacific’s all-time passing chart and 265 yards to become only the ninth Cougar ever to throw for over 3,000 yards in a career.

Carlton Game-By-Game in 2007

Opponent        PC-PA-I  Yards TD  LG
MidAmerica Naz. 17-33-0   238   4  42
San Diego       23-42-1   284   3  38
Malone          24-35-1   237   1  35
UW La Crosse    14-35-2   208   1  41
Totals          78-145-4  967   9  42

CATCHING DAVIS: Junior WR Jon Davis is off to the best start by a Cougar receiver since Kevin Carlson opened the 2000 campaign with 30 catches in the first 4 games, including the school single-game record 14 in the season-opener vs. San Diego. To date, Davis has 26 receptions in 4 games for 395 yards (15.2 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.

Then 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.

Last week, he was held to a season-low 4 catches, but his final one was critical. With no time outs left and only 44 seconds remaining in the game at Wisconsin-La Crosse, Davis and Rudy Carlton hooked up for the fifth time this season on a 41-yard bomb to the knot game at 20-20 and force OT.

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 14-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 31 punts for 415 yards (13.4 avg.).

THE SACK MASTERS: Azusa Pacific went the first 2 games of the 2007 campaign without sacking the opposing quarterback, and with no pressure upon them, those QBs diced and sliced the Cougar defense for 559 yards and a whopping 8 TDs. However, the Cougars have made up for lost time the past 2 contests, sacking the Malone and Wisconsin-La Crosse QBs a combined 11 times. The end result is just 354 passing yards and 3 TDs surrendered the past 2 games.

Eight different Cougars have had a hand in at least 1 sack, led by junior LB Travis Bengard, who has tallied 2 QB sacks among his team-leading 45 tackles to date. Defensive linemen Casey Roel, Kenny Simmons and John Green all have 1.5 sacks thus far.

DEFT TOUCH: Sophomore punter Andrew Lutton is proving to be a valuable weapon, though his numbers may not necessarily be eye-poppers. Lutton is averaging a fine 41.1 yards a boot this year, and a third of his 21 punts have pinned the opponent inside its own 20-yard line. On his other 14 punts this season, Lutton is averaging nearly 43 yards a punt. Less than half of his punts have been returned, and even then the opponent is averaging just 7.4 yards on those returns

BY THE NUMBER: Azusa Pacific has committed 9 turnovers this season and the opponent has turned 7 of them into TDs. Two giveaways went directly into scores (fumble recovery vs. MNU and interception vs. USD), 3 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 68-54-3 all-time in games played in the month of September, and are 21-10 in September games since 2000 ... Sophomore PK Ben Hansen has not missed a PAT in his college career, making all 33 attempts thus far. He had a string of 8 straight field goals made snapped at La Crosse when he sailed a 35-yard attempt wide right ... Azusa Pacific is now 2-2 all-time in overtime games.

SANTA CRUZ SAYS: “I look at our schedule this year and last year and know that we’ve been in street fights with big bruisers and gone toe-to-toe with them,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Victor Santa Cruz. “When you look at our opponents this year and see what they’re doing as the season unfolds, you realize that we were right there with all them in our games.

“Still, we’re a team at a crucial point in our program. We’re experiencing the trials you’re going to face when you play the level of opponents that we are. We’re close, and that’s encouraging, but we have to take care of the finer details to bust through the door.

“Nicholls State does a good job running it’s triple-option system, and to be honest this is the kind of opponent we need right now. In order to defend Nicholls you have to hone in on the mental aspects of the game. It’s somewhat easy to find guys frothing at the mouth to play physical football, but Nicholls forces you to play assignment football and be smart about what you do. We need that test of discipline right now that forces us to play the mental aspect of the game.

“It’s obvious to me that we’re much better than we were a year ago even though the record is the same. We need to avoid some of the mistakes that have been critical in our 3 losses.”

ABOUT NICHOLLS: Nicholls State was picked to finish seventh this year in the 8-team Southland Conference behind the likes of McNeese State and Stephen F. Austin, but the Colonels upset the apple cart in the opening week when they stunned NCAA Division I Rice University, 16-14, in Houston on Sept. 1. Called the biggest win in program history, the Rice victory catapulted Nicholls into the NCAA Division I FCS Top 25. With their new-found national recognition, the Colonels returned home to dump NCAA Division II Southern Arkansas, 31-13, before enduring last week’s setback at Nevada.

Nicholls State runs a triple-option offense which sparingly employs a pass. In fact, the Colonels put the ball in the air just once in last week’s loss at Nevada, and for the season they’ve attempted just 25 passes in 3 games. Instead, they are averaging 210 rushing yards a game, relaying on senior FB Broderick Cole, who is averaging 4.6 yards a carry and 61.7 yards a game.

The Colonels are averaging 313 yards a game while allowing the opponent 343. They’ve been penalized 31 times, over 10 a game to date.