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San Diego Contains Cougars

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September 5, 2009
Gary Pine
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GLENDORA, Calif. – All-conference seniors Seb Trujillo and J.T. Rogan accounted for all 3 TDs and the Torero defense grounded the Cougar ground game to lead the University of San Diego to a 24-12 victory over Azusa Pacific Saturday night in what is believed to be a program home record crowd of 5,124 who watched in Citrus Stadium.

Trujillo completed just 8-of-12 passes for 101 yards on the night, but he tossed a pair of 11-yard TDs, first to John McGrough, who tip-toed the left sideline to secure the catch in the second quarter, and then to Godrey Smith, who juggled the fade to the left corner but held on just in time before falling out of bounds.

After a scoreless first quarter, Rogan tallied the game’s first TD, capping an 8-play, 51-yard drive with a 2-yard blast into the end zone. Rogan, who finished the game with 50 yards on just 7 carries, registered 5 carries alone on the scoring drive.

The Toreros scored again on their next drive with Trujillo’s strike to McGrough, but it was his 42-yard catch-and-run with Smith that set up the score.

On the strength of sophomore QB John van den Raadt’s arm, Azusa Pacific came right back and motored 67 yards on 9 plays, the big gainer coming on a 30-yard pass play from van den Raadt to fellow sophomore Matt Davis. The Cougars, however, could not punch the ball into the end zone from the USD 5-yard line and had to settle for a 22-yard Ben Hansen field goal with 2 seconds left in the first half.

Despite trailing 14-3 at the half, the Cougars appeared to be in good shape to make a second-half run at USD, a team they had not beaten since 2004. Three key second-half mistakes snuffed out chances of a Cougar comeback.

The first miscue came early in the third quarter when the Cougars maneuvered their way down to the USD 19-yard line. However, on first-and-10, van den Raadt fumbled a hand-off and San Diego recovered the loose ball.

“If there was a turning point in the game, that fumble may have been it,” said fourth-year coach Victor Santa Cruz. “We got the ball down there and needed to punch it in to get it going.” The next misstep came on USD’s ensuing drive which appeared to have stalled at midfield on a dropped third down pass attempt. The Cougars, however, were flagged for a late hit on Trujillo to keep the drive alive, and though USD couldn’t capitalize, the Toreros nonetheless were able to chew up nearly 8 minutes of the third-quarter clock, keeping the Cougar offense off the field.

“USD has always had good offensive lines,” said Santa Cruz, “and when you have the score and the clock on your side, you can rely on those big heavies to wear down the other team, and they did that well.” When Azusa Pacific finally got the ball back to start the fourth quarter, van den Raadt and Davis again went to work, this time connecting on a 50-yard pass play to put the ball just inside the Torero 15-yard line. A first-down holding penalty sent the Cougars back and into obvious passing situations. Van den Raadt misfired on 3 straight passes, and Azusa Pacific had to settle for another Hansen field goal, this one from 41 yards out.

USD’s Stan Shurson answered Hansen’s boot with his own booming 48-yarder that clipped the right upright and fell through to push the Torero advantage back to 17-6.

The Cougar offense could not answer on the following drive and was forced off the field after just 3 plays. USD responded by taking advantage of a tiring Cougar defense, converting a pair of third down plays with Phil Morelli rushes, including an 18-yarder. The third and final key mistake bit the Cougars when they appeared to have stopped USD on the third third-down play of the drive. Smith dropped a 30-yard Trujillo pass in the back of the end zone, but Azusa Pacific was called for pass interference, and this time USD made sure it cashed its second chance when Smith held on to Trujillo’s last TD pass of the game.

“I saw tremendous improvement from the first week to the second week,” said Santa Cruz, “but we’re still a young team and you saw some of the ‘young stuff' coming out. We have to shut down the run at the line and not 3 or 4 yards after contact.”

Azusa Pacific tallied its only touchdown of the game when defensive end Mark Berry scooped a USD fumble and scooted 64 yards to paydirt with 46 seconds left in the game.

Van den Raadt accounted for 200 of Azusa Pacific’s 208 yards of total offense, completing 16-of-30 passes for 196 yards and rushing for another 4 yard on the ground. Davis finished with a career-high 7 grabs for 132 yards. The Cougar ground game was grounded to a halt, amassing just 12 yards on 23 carries. Senior RB Chris Brown, who rushed for 96 yards against Carroll the previous week, was certainly the focus of the USD defense, and finished with minue-5 yards on 11 carries.

“This is a growth process,” said Santa Cruz. “Our young cats are cutting their teeth. You hate losing, there’s nothing good about it. But we measure each game by can we be our best. The good news is that they really stepped forward from our play of last week.”

With the victory, USD collects its fifth straight season-opening win. Azusa Pacific falls to 0-2.