THIBODAUX, La. –- Alex Romero’s 23-yard field goal with 9 second left lifted Nicholls State to a 30-28 victory over Azusa Pacific Saturday afternoon, spoiling the Cougars’ dramatic comeback and near monstrous upset of the nationally-ranked NCAA Division I FCS Colonels.
Azusa Pacific trailed 20-0 at the end of the third quarter, but the Cougars staged a dramatic rally, scoring 28 fourth-quarter points, including the final 7 on a 40-yard pass from Rudy Carlton to Jon Davis with 1:27 left in the game to assume a stunning 28-27 lead.
However, aided by a pair 15-yard Cougar penalties, Nicholls State moved 74 yards on the ensuing drive, needing just 7 plays to put itself at the Cougar 7-yard line to set up Romero’s game-winning heroics.
Azusa Pacific struggled to muster any offense against Nicholls State throughout most of the game, managing just 24 yards of total offense through its first 29 plays and 41 minutes of the game. Contrary, Nicholls State appeared headed toward a blowout victory against its first 4 foe in several years, scoring touchdowns on its first 2 drives by motoring 73 and 86 yards on a pair of 9-play drives to move out to a quick 13-0 lead.
The Cougars, however, figured out the Colonels’ triple-option offense and proceeded to hold NSU to just 70 yards on its next 6 possessions. Nicholls was able to pad its 13-0 halftime lead by intercepting Carlton on the first play of the second half and returning the ball to the Cougar 2-yard line. Three plays later Joseph Tobias capped the easy drive with a 1-yard plunge that put Nicholls State up 20-0, a cushion that stood through the start of the fourth quarter.
Once in the final frame, the Cougar offense became footloose and fancy free, much like it did the week before at Wisconsin-La Crosse when Azusa Pacific rallied from 20 down to tie the game in the final minute of regulation. This time at Nicholls State, Carlton and back-up QB Rodney Trimm combined to complete 12-of-17 passes in the fourth quarter, covering 175 yards and tallying 4 TDs.
The Cougar comeback opened on Trimm’s 10-yard TD strike to Davis off a fake field goal attempt with 14:10 left in the game.
Nicholls State answered when defensive back-turned-quarterback Ladarius Webb took an option play 76 yards to the end zone to push the Colonel lead to what seemed to be an insurmountable 27-7 lead with 13 minutes left in the game.
The Cougars quickly answered though, going 73 yards on 11 plays, capped by Carlton’s 28-yard TD strike to junior Andrew Kazanjian for what was not only Kazanjian’s first-ever TD catch but also his first collegiate reception.
On the first play of the ensuring Nicholls’ drive, Cougar NG Darrell Tupuola stripped Tobias of the ball and junior DE Kenny Simmons recovered the fumble at the Colonels’ 27-yard line. Azusa Pacific moved the ball to the 2-yard line but Alex Peltier was caught in the backfield on third down for a 2-yard loss, forcing the Cougars to go for the TD on fourth down. Carlton converted the pressure situation, hitting Davis on a 4-yard scoring strike to pull Azusa Pacific to within a TD at 27-21 with 4:52 left in the game.
Despite getting a pair of first downs on the next drive, Nicholls State was unable to run out the clock and punted the ball back to Azusa Pacific with just over 2 minutes left in the contest. The Cougars needed just 37 seconds to go 80 yards down field. Carlton went back to Kazanjian for 2 more pass completions of 16 and 10 yards, and after speedy senior RB Darnell Dodson took a swing pass another 14 yards, Azusa Pacific found itself at the Nicholls 40-yard line. Carlton went back to his favorite target, again hitting Davis, who then broke 2 tackles and bounced into the end zone for an improbable 28-27 Azusa Pacific lead with 1:27 left in the game.
Nicholls started its game-winning drive on its own 26-yard line and got a boost following a first-play 11-yard pass completion when the Cougars were whistled for a roughing-the-passer penalty that put the ball at the Azusa Pacific 48. Colonel QB Zach Chauvin then scrambled 19 yards downfield to move Nicholls to the Azusa Pacific 17. After a delay of game call moved the ball back to the Cougar 22, the Colonels got the break they desperately needed when Azusa Pacific was whistled for pass interference with 14 seconds left to move the ball at the Cougar 7-yard line. Romero immediately came out onto the field to bang through the uprights the game-winning field.
Nicholls State, which is ranked No. 17 in the NCAA Division I FSC, escaped with a victory that pushes its record to 3-1 on the season, while Azusa Pacific, which suffered its second straight last-minute defeat, falls to 1-4.
Carlton finished the game 22-for-33 passing for 275 yards and 3 TDs. Davis matched his career-high of 8 receptions for 150 yards. He now had 8 TD receptions in just 4 games this season.
The Cougars managed just 10 rushing yards, partly because of bad snaps that forced Carlton to scramble for loose balls in the backfield. Thirteen penalties for 119 yards inflicted serious damage on the Cougar cause as well.
Nicholls State finished with 367 rushing yards, 120 accounted for on 8 carries by Webb, the Colonels’ regular starting free safety, who today made his first-ever collegiate appearance at quarterback.