LAKE WALES, Fla. – Senior QB Rudy Carlton threw for 2 touchdowns, junior RB Alex Peltier scored 2 TDs, and the Cougar defense thwarted 2 drives inside their own 5-yard line as Azusa Pacific downed Webber International University, 31-20, in the Cougars’ first-ever game played in Florida.
Azusa Pacific rolled out to a 31-6 lead, using a rejuvenated ground game and some pinpoint passing by Carlton to toy with the Warrior defense. At one point, the Cougars scored on 3 consecutive drives and 4 of 5 to take control of the game. Peltier enjoyed his best game since the second week of the season, rushing for 66 yards on just 11 carries and scored the game’s first touchdown on a 14-yard scamper. Sophomore FB David Kim added 48 yards on 10 carries and tallied his first TD of the season with a 1-yard blast midway through the second quarter that gave the Cougars a 21-6 halftime lead.
The Cougar defense on the other hand seemingly played with the Warrior defense, allowing WIU to drive all over the field, only to stop them cold in their track when it was most important to go forward. In the closing minutes of the first half, Webber International drove 72 yards to the Cougar 5-yard line, but on third-and-goal and with 29 seconds left in the half, Cougar CB Travon Moore intercepted an Andrew Carr pass in the end zone to preserve Azusa Pacific’s 15-point halftime advantage.
Then early in the fourth quarter, with Azusa Pacific up 31-6, Webber again drove the length of the field and had a first-and-goal at the Cougar 3-yard line. After a first-down rush put the ball at the 1, the Cougars stopped Carr on a quarterback sneak and then forced Carr to fumble on third down which WIU recovered at the 3. On fourth down, Carr air-mailed a pass into the end zone, ending the drive and giving the ball back to Azusa Pacific with 7:46 left in the game.
“We really played well in all facets of the game,” said Cougar coach Victor Santa Cruz. “Defensively we shut them down and played a discipline game that really disrupted their quarterbacks.”
Carr and his back-up, Cory Johns, combined for 16-for-34 passing for 208 yards and a TD, but they were picked off 4 times, including twice by senior DB Jayson Sanchez. The other pick was attributed to senior CB Cameron Tucker who snagged a Carr pass and returned 14 yards deep into Warrior territory. Two plays later, Carlton hit Peltier for a 21-yard TD strike and a 28-6 Azusa Pacific lead less than 4 minutes into the second half.
Azusa Pacific’s other score came on a 32-yard pass from Carlton to junior WR Jon Davis that gave the Cougars a 14-6 lead at the time. The score was Davis’ 21st TD catch of the season, tops in all of college football, and in the process it broke Cougar legend Christian Okoye’s single-season scoring record of 126 points. With his 21 TD grabs and a 2-point PAT, Davis has 128 points this season. For the game, Davis finished with 10 receptions for 183 yards.
“It’s been great to see a young man like Jon have this kind of season,” said Santa Cruz. “There is no ego about him. He is not trying to get the accolades. Every week he came to practice and tried to get better, and as he did, we found more ways to use him. His attitude is what has made him successful.”
For the season, Davis has 73 receptions for 1,258 yards. Only All-American Deon Jordan tallied more receiving yards in an Azusa Pacific season, recording 1,386 yards during Azusa Pacific’s 12-game 1999 NAIA playoff season.
For the game, Azusa Pacific tallied 364 yards of total offense, and Webber registered 448, but 141 of it came in the final 7 minutes after Santa Cruz had cleared the bench.
“You don’t want to give up those late touchdowns like we did,” said Santa Cruz, “but I was happy to get a lot of people into the game.”
Carlton finished the game 16-for-33 passing for 240 yards with 1 interception, which stopped a Cougar drive inside the Warrior 20 early in the game. For the season, Carlton has thrown for 2,605 yards and 28 TDs, numbers that rank among the top 3 single-season bests in Azusa Pacific history.
“This is a very good football team right now,” said Santa Cruz. “I’ve seen a lot of football across this nation the past 2 seasons, and I know what I’m talking about in regards to how this team is playing.”
Azusa Pacific has now won 4 straight and 5 of its past 6, and has come a long way since opening the season 1-4. The Cougars are 6-5 and have clinched a winning season. Webber International is 3-6.
“I’ve always known this was a winning group of players from a character standpoint,” said Santa Cruz, “but it helps them to have some fruit for their labor. All the hard work has paid off. They’ve learned the lessons, like taking care of each other, taking care of the fundamentals and doing it the right way. And that’s what we’re trying to teach them, that it’s true for the fundamentals of life, marriage and a job. Doing it the right way is a lot harder but it pays off in the long run.”