AZUSA, Calif. -- A pair of goal-line take-a-ways and 144 rushing yards by Chris Brown, the first Cougar in nearly 2 years to eclipse the century mark, allowed Azusa Pacific University to escape with a 13-10 victory over the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Saturday evening before a crowd of 2,913 at Cougar Stadium.
The win is Azusa Pacific’s first in 4 games this season while Wisconsin-La Crosse falls to 0-3.
The Cougar defense, which had yielded 154 points and nearly 1,500 yards in the first 3 games, rose to the occasion tonight, holding UW-L to 249 yards and forcing 2 turnovers, both at their own goal line.
“We knew as a defense, we had to step it up tonight,” said Cougar senior LB Brian Casey. “We’d given up a lot of points and yardage in previous games, and we knew that winning tradition had to start with us, and I think we showed what we can do.”
Casey led the way with a momentum-shifting play in the final minutes of the first half. With the Azusa Pacific clinging to a 10-7 lead, UW-L drove 49 yards to the Cougar 3-yard line, knocking on the door to take the lead heading into halftime. However on third down, Cougar lineman Matt Johnson tipped an Eagle pass and Casey collected the wobbly ball in the end zone, allowing the Cougars to preserve its 3-point advantage at halftime.
“It all happened so quickly,” said Casey. “I was splitting between the pass and run and Matt made a great tip on the ball at the line. The ball just fell in my hands, and I thought maybe I was gone all the way for a touchdown but they were on to me right away.”
Then early in the fourth quarter, with the Cougars still clinging to a 3-point lead, now at 13-10, UW-L again drove the ball deep into Azusa Pacific territory and on second down from the 4-yard line the Eagles appeared to be headed into the endzone. However, as Eagle running back Reid Oldenburg sprinted toward paydirt, he leaped into the air where Cougar LB Jay York stuck him hard, forcing Oldenburg to drop the ball into the end zone. Cougar safety Beau Leaman fell on the loose ball to preserve the Cougar lead
The Eagles had one last chance to win the game, or at the very least tie the score and force overtime. With 3:39 remaining and no timeouts left, UW-L parlayed a bad long snap and the subsequent shanked Cougar punt into a golden opportunity. Within 5 plays they were at the Cougar 16-yard line, setting for another score. The Cougar defense, though, put the heat of UW-L QB Alex Seguin, inducing back-to-back incomplete passes and forcing UW-L to go for a game-tying field goal. However, Kyle Wojcik, who earlier in the game made good on a 32-yard boot, came up short this time on a 34-yard attempt with 1:36 left, allowing Azusa Pacific to come away with its first win of the season and its first over a University of Wisconsin school in 4 tries.
“My heart was pumping on their last drive,” added Casey, who finished with 4 tackles and a pass deflection to go along with his first interception of the season. “We had the forced fumble and the pick earlier in the game, so I was confident that we could come up with something to stop them.”
After not having a lead in any game this season, Azusa Pacific grabbed an early lead in tonight’s game and never trailed, though UW-L did tie the game at 7-7 and again at 10-10.
Behind the running of Brown, the Cougars seemingly owned the ball the entire first half. Brown capped a 16-play, 80-yard drive with a 4-yard blast into the end zone to give Azusa Pacific a 7-0 lead with 13 seconds left in the first quarter. The drive took 9 minutes of 14 seconds to execute, and Brown collected 34 yards on the drive.
UW-L answered on the next drive, using a 59-yard kickoff return by Oldenburg to put the ball at the Cougar 31-yard line. Three plays later, WR Kyle Steffen made a spectacular one-handed catch of a Seguin pass for a 25-yard touchdown score to knot the game at 7-7.
Riding the shoulders of true-freshman QB John van den Raadt the Cougars answered and moved 39 yards, 21 of which came on a van den Raadt-to-Jon Davis pass to set up Corey Lenahan’s first field goal in 3 years and only the third of his career. The punter-turned-placekicker tonight in place of the injured Ben Hansen successfully converted a 34-yard kick to give the Cougars a 10-7 halftime lead.
Midway through the third quarter, UW-L tied the game at 10-10 on Wojcik’s field goal, but as the third quarter closed, Lenahan made what proved to be the game-winning field goal, a 20-yard kick that put the Cougars up 13-10 with 3 seconds remaining in the quarter.
It was on the ensuing drive to start the fourth quarter that UW-L moved downfield, converting a 2 third downs and a controversial fourth down in which a late flag was thrown well after the play, penalizing the Cougars for holding and keeping the ball in Eagle hands. Five plays later though, York came up with the biggest of his 9 tackles, jarring Oldenburg so hard that the ball was dislodged and fell into the end zone where Leaman safely secured it for Azusa Pacific
Azusa Pacific had the ball for 35 minutes, 10 more than UW-L, and relied on the running of Brown to keep the Eagle offense on the sidelines. Brown finished with 144 yards on 32 carries to become the first Cougar to rush for over 100 yards in a game since Marcus Lampkin closed the 2006 season with a 111 yards vs. Webber International University.
Van den Raadt, who was third Cougar QB to start in 4 games this year, showed no signs of nervousness, completing 12-of-23 passes for 128 yards while rushing for another 33 on 6 carries.
“My nerves weren’t bad tonight,” said van den Raadt, who this time last year was putting together a 1,000-yard rushing and 1,000-yard passing campaign at Jurupa Valley High in Mira Loma, Calif. “After the first play it all calmed down. I got a lot of reps in practice this week, and closely watched their film so I understood their looks on defense.”
On the Cougars’ go-ahead drive in the third quarter, van den Raadt hit All-American WR Jon Davis on an outstanding 16-yard pass play that set up Lenahan’s eventual game-difference field goal. On the play, Davis turned and snagged the ball that was right on him, moving the Cougars inside the Eagle 10.
“I was not expecting the ball,” said Davis who finished with game-highs of 6 catches for 72 yards, “but I turned and the ball just stuck in my hands. That’s the way it’s supposed to happened, but even I was surprised.”
The Cougars finished with 298 yards of total offense, but this was a night for the Azusa Pacific defense to shine and step into the spotlight after a difficult start to the season.
“We built a lot of trust as a defense tonight,” said senior LB Travis Bengard, who had 6 tackles, including 3 for loss and the Cougars’ only quarterback sack of the evening. “We did a great job. We’re coming together and the confidence and momentum are back.
Azusa Pacific returns to the road next week to visit La Crosse rival University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in a 1 p.m. (CDT) game.