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The Comforts of Home

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Published
September 29, 2007
By
Gary Pine
THIS WEEK
Southern Nazarene at Azusa Pacific
Saturday, Oct. 29, 6 p.m.
Cougar Stadium

Records
Azusa Pacific – 1-4
Southern Nazarene – 3-1d

THIS WEEK: After 2 weeks of playing football near the Mississippi River, Azusa Pacific returns home to the west coast to play its next 4 games in California, including 3 in Azusa. The stretch starts with the Cougars hosting NAIA member Southern Nazarene University of Bethany, Okla., Saturday (Sept. 29) in a 6 p.m. contest in Azusa.

RADIO: Azusa Pacific’s student-run radio station KAPU will cover the Azusa Pacific-Southern Nazarene game live from Cougar Stadium. Philip Kern, Missak Tohkmanian and Samantha Jackson will call all the action beginning at 5:45 p.m..

LIVE STATS: Live stats of the Azusa Pacific-Southern Nazarene game can be viewed through the Internet.

TICKETS: Tickets for the Azusa Pacific-Southern Nazarene game can be purchased on the day of the game at the stadium gate, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $7 for adults and $5 for students with ID (children under 12 are free),

ABOUT SOUTHERN NAZARENE: Southern Nazarene is a longtime NAIA member of about 2,200 undergraduate students located in Bethany, Okla., 10 miles northwest of Oklahoma City. Like Azusa Pacific, Southern Nazarene was founded in 1899. Traditionally an NAIA power in both men’s and women’s basketball, Southern Nazarene added football to its 15-sport intercollegiate program just 8 seasons ago in 2000.

SERIES NOTES: Southern Nazarene leads the all-time series with Azusa Pacific, downing the Cougars 17-10 in overtime last year in a game played in Bethany Okla.

Despite the lengthy distance between the 2 NAIA schools, Azusa Pacific and Southern Nazarene have met many times before in other sports with the Crimson Storm taking 8 of the previous 9 meetings between the sports of men’s basketball, women’s basketball, men’s soccer and football.

LAST YEAR: Jeremy Rogers’ 15-yard TD catch combined with Brady Frenchak’s 26-yard field goal with 6 seconds left in regulation lifted Southern Nazarene to a 17-10 overtime victory over Azusa Pacific in Bethany, Okla., in both team’s regular-season finale.

Azusa Pacific broke a 7-7 tie on a Ben Hansen 22-yard field goal with 6:06 left in the fourth quarter. Clinging to a 10-7 lead, the Cougars appeared to have clinched the victory on Tony Musa’s interception of Tyler Schneider pass with 2:52 remaining. However, the Cougar could not get a first down and punted the ball back to SNU with 68 seconds remaining. The Crimson Strom moved 48 yards on 8 plays to set up Frenchak’s game-tying field goal.

In overtime, the Cougars appeared to take the lead on Marcus Lampkin’s fourth-and-goal run at the SNU 1-yard line. However, Lampkin’s knee was ruled down before the ball crossed the goal line ending the Cougar possession. SNU responded on its first possession of OT when Schenider connected with Rogers on the ninth play of the possession.

The 2 teams combined for just 328 yards worth of total offense. The Cougars’ scored their lone TD on a Casey Roel 23-yard fumble return to take a 7-0 first-quarter lead.

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 isn’t 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 FCS), Southern Nazarene (NAIA) -- have all been nationally-ranked in their respective polls at one time or another this season.

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.

NATIONAL RANKINGS: Neither Southern Nazarene nor Azusa Pacific are ranked in this week’s NAIA Coaches’ Top 25 Poll. The Crimson Storm was ranked No. 23 after opening the season with 2 victories. A lost at Peru State knocked SNU out of the Top 25. They are currently among “others receiving votes.”

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.

Mike Cochran is in his second season at Southern Nazarene where he has fashioned a 10-4 record to date. Prior to his arrival at SNU, Cochran spent 5 years as the head coach at SNU’s sister school MidAmerica Nazarene, where he put together a 46-12 record while guiding the Pioneers to 3 NAIA playoff appearances (2002-03-04). An Oklahoma native, Cochran played his college ball at NAIA member Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan., from where he graduated in 1991.

LAST WEEK: Azusa Pacific dropped its second straight “white-knuckler” falling at NCAA Division I Nicholls State University, 30-28. Alex Romero’s 23-yard field with 6 seconds left in the game allowed the Colonels to avoid a monstrous upset. Azusa Pacific rallied from 20 down with 28 fourth-quarter points, assuming a 28-27 lead on a Rudy Carlton to Jon Davis 40-yard TD pass with 1:27 left in the game. However, aided by a pair of 15-yard Cougar penalties, Nicholls moved 74 yards in 64 seconds to set up Romero’s game-winning heroics. Carlton was 22-for-33 passing for 275 yards while Davis finished with 8 catches for 150 yards and 3 TDs.

Southern Nazarene tallied a pair of fourth-quarter TDs to break open a tight game and beat Bacone College, 42-21, for the Crimson Storm’s first conference win. Bacone racked up 413 yards of total offense but had 6 drives stall out in SNU territory. Meanwhile, Southern Nazarene turned a pair of Bacone turnovers into TDs, and relied on the running of Branden Smith, who rushed for 82 yards on 16 carries, the last 48 yards coming on a game-clinching TD run with 3:26 left in the game.

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 5-game start ever by a Cougar QB. He has completed 100-of-178 (.562) passes for 1,242 yards and 12 TDs against 5 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 118-of-229 (.515) passes for 1,550 yards and 9 TDs against 6 interceptions in the first 5 games of that season. Certainly, Carlton’s 5-game performance is the best 5 successive games put together by a Cougar QB since 2001 when Luke Winslow went 97-for-164 (.591) for 1,255 yards, 7 TDs and 10 picks in games vs. Cal Lutheran, Humboldt State, Menlo, La Verne and Southern Oregon.

Carlton has now thrown for 3,010 yards and 22 TDs in his 21-game Azusa Pacific career, which has been lengthened because of 2 seasons in which he did not play (2002 redshirt and 2004 injury). With his effort at Nicholls State, Carlton becomes only the ninth Cougar ever to throw for over 3,000 yards in a career.

Yet to reach the midway point of the 2007 campaign, Carlton is on pace to throw for over 2,600 yards this season, a figure reached by only 2 other Cougar QBs, Neo Aoga in 1999 (3,873) and Geoff Buffum (3,053), both of whom played seasons significantly lengthened by the NAIA playoffs.

He is currently averaging 248 passing yards a game. Only 3 other Cougar QBs have posted better per-game averages over the course of a season — Aoga (322.8 in 1999), Hunt (281.1 in 1990) and Winslow (251.2 in 2000).

“I’m really happy for Rudy,” said Cougar coach Victor Santa Cruz. “We always knew he had the ability to be this good. I think the system that (offensive coordinator) Josh Darnell has employed has really helped. There is a rhyme and reason now for all of Rudy’s reads, and he and the receivers are playing as one, as if they are on the same page.”

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
Nicholls State  22-33-1    275   3  40
Totals         100-178-5 1,242  12  42

TD (TOUCHDOWN DAVIS): Junior WR Jon Davis is off to the best start by a Cougar receiver since Kevin Carlson opened the 2000 campaign with 34 catches in the first 5 games. To date, Davis likewise has 34 receptions in 5 games for 545 yards (16.0 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.

He was held to a season-low 4 catches at Wisconsin-La Crosse, but his final one was critical. With no time outs left and only 44 seconds remaining in the game, 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.

Last week at Nicholls State, he again snagged a career-high 8 catches for a career-high 150 yards and 3 TDs, including the go-ahead 40-yard catch-run score that gave Azusa Pacific a 28-27 lead with 1:17 left in the game.

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: The word has gotten out about senior WR Trent Sakioka, who earlier this season 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 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. Since his TD vs. USD, the opponent has either kicked away from Sakioka or hung high punts that have made for limited opportunities for return. Still, for his Cougar career he has returned 32 punts for 415 yards (13.0 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 3 contests, collecting 12 sacks, including 6 vs. Malone. The end result is just 393 passing yards and 3 TDs surrendered the past 3 games.

Nine different Cougars have had a hand in at least 1 sack, led by junior LB Travis Bengard, and DE Darrell Tupuola, who each have tallied 2 QB sacks .

BOOMING LEG: Sophomore punter Andrew Lutton is coming off his best game as a Cougar, averaging a hefty 50.6 yards over the course of his 5 punts vs. Nicholls State last Saturday. He launched a career-high 62-yarder that pinned the Colonels in the shadow of their own end zone. He also had boots of 55, 49 and 47 yards. For the season, the former King’s High (Seattle, Wash.) standout is averaging 43.0 yards a punt. In addition, nearly a third of his punts have finished inside the foe’s 20-yard line.

vs. THE NAIA: Azusa Pacific is the only NAIA school in California that sponsors football and is 1 of only 3 west of the Rockies (Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon are the others). Opportunities to play NAIA members are relatively rare. Since 1998, the Cougars are 22-15 vs. NAIA foes. They have won 9 of their past 14 verdicts vs. NAIA teams with 3 of the losses coming in the NAIA playoffs.

BY THE NUMBER: Azusa Pacific has committed 11 turnovers and the opponent has turned 8 of them into TDs. Two giveaways went directly into scores (fumble recovery vs. MNU and interception vs. USD), 5 other turnovers came inside the Cougar 30-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 68-55-3 all-time in games played in the month of September, and are 21-11 in September games since 2000 ... Sophomore PK Ben Hansen has not missed a PAT in his college career, making all 37 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 2-2 all-time in overtime games ... Azusa Pacific had committed just 25 penalties through the first 4 games, but officials dropped the yellow hanky 13 times on the Cougars at Nicholls State ... Azusa Pacific will travel over 17,900 miles this season to its 6 road contests in Missouri, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Florida and Northern California.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Azusa Pacific is 42-10 in Cougar Stadium since 1999, with 4 of the past 5 losses coming at the hands of nationally-ranked teams. Since the opening of Cougar Stadium, Oct. 18, 1986, Azusa Pacific is 67-37 against the scenic foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

SANTA CRUZ SAYS: “Despite being 1-4 we really are a good football team,” said Cougar head coach Victor Santa Cruz. “We’re playing good football against good teams. We’re going toe-to-toe with them, and I see improvement every week. We have to clean up some things, but we’re in good spirits, ready to crank it up again this weekend.

“I continue to be amazed at the warrior spirit of this team. They will play 4 quarters, and no matter the circumstances they keep swinging. It’s that kind of character that got us back into the games at La Crosse and Nicholls. They play to the end and don’t let the circumstances dictate their competitive spirit.

“We need to start a run now, and that begins by playing great football. We’re excited to be home and playing NAIA schools in back-to-back weeks. Southern Nazarene is a lot like they were last year. They’re quite athletic on defense and very physical on offense. I think they’re deserving of being nationally-ranked in the Top 25.”

ABOUT THE CRIMSON STORM: The Crimson Storm have won 3 of their first 4 games, 2 of which were at home. As a result of their fine start, they are among others receiving votes in this week’s NAIA Coaches Top 25 Poll.

After rolling over NCAA Division III Howard Payne, 42-14, in the season opener, the Crimson Storm returned home to knock off Belhaven, 28-21, using a pair of second half TDs to break a 14-14 halftime tie.

SNU fell 16-13 at Peru State for its only setback of the season. PSU parlayed 2 first-quarter turnovers into TDs and moved out to a 16-0 halftime lead. Southern Nazarene rallied with 2 fourth-quarter TDs, but the Bobcats converted a third-and-long with a minute to play to hold on for the win.

SNU returns the bulk of its offensive firepower that led the Crimson Storm to a 7-3 record last year. Included in the mix is senior QB Tyler Schenider, who to date is completing 56% of his passes and is averaging 204 passing yards a game to go along with 9 TD passes on the season. Schneider spreads his attack, using 14 different receivers thus far, including junior Greg Oswald, who has a team-high 15 catches including a pair of TD grabs.

Also back is junior RB Brandon Smith, who is averaging 87.5 yards a game and 5.1 yards a carry through 4 games this season. A year ago, Smith rushed for 100 yards on 26 carries vs. the Cougars.