SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Azusa Pacific exploded … and then some.
The Cougars’ spread offense, which has struggled through much of the 2009 campaign, put together single-game numbers that haven’t been produced by an Azusa Pacific team in at least 4 years, and as a result the Cougars rolled to a surprising 55-27 victory over Trinity University Saturday afternoon.
Led by sophomore QB John van den Raadt, the Cougars tallied more total offense and points than they had in the 2 previous games combined to snap a 4-game losing streak.
Van den Raadt threw for career-highs 299 yards and 3 touchdowns and ran for another 3, pacing Azusa Pacific to scores on 7 of its first 8 possessions. Van den Raadt tossed TD strikes of 39, 52 and 20 yards and ran for TDs of 1, 6 and 16 yards, all the while leading Azusa Pacific to its second win in as many visits to Trinity over the past 5 years.
“We opened up and threw downfield a little more today,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Victor Santa Cruz, “and John did a good job of reading the defense, knowing where and when to throw, when to pull the ball in and run, and when to pitch it.”
Azusa Pacific needed just 8 plays to go up 14-3 only 6 minutes into the game. Van den Raadt, who had a game-opening 43-yard TD strike waved off by a penalty, came back 3 plays later with a score that would stick when he hit Matt Davis on a 39-yard TD strike to put the Cougars up 7-0. On the Cougars’ next possession, van den Raadt picked up 17 yards on 3 consecutive rushes of his own and then went back to Davis for a 52-yard scoring bomb.
“Matt is a sure-handed receiver and he’s a lot faster than most people think at first glance,” said Santa Cruz. “He made a catch and a move on both plays and took the ball the rest of the way.”
Dazed by both van den Raadt’s arm and his legs, Trinity still hadn’t found a proper adjustment by the time Azusa Pacific took possession of the ball for a third time. Van den Raadt connected with 300-pound James Brunt who rumbled 41 yards downfield, and van den Raadt followed with his own 32-yard run to the Tiger 9. Far from tired, van den Raadt called his own number on successive runs, plowing in from a yard out to put the Cougars up 21-3 as the first quarter closed.
While Trinity countered with a 30-yard TD strike, it hardly slowed the Cougar train which had pulled from the station and was gaining speed.
Sophomore Jeremiah Andujo, who set up the Cougars’ first TD with a game-opening 41-yard kickoff return, carved a 46-yard return to put the ball back in Trinity territory. Van den Raadt then picked up 11 yards on a run, found Andujo on a 12-yard pass and closed out yet another quick-strike drive with a 16-yard trot into the end zone.
The field was seemingly downhill for the Cougars on every play. After pushing the Tigers back 8 yards on their ensuing drive, Azusa Pacific took possession of the ball and this time needed just 3 plays to tack on another TD when van den Raadt found Aaron Wall for a 20-yard TD reception that gave the Cougars a 35-10 lead.
In just a quarter-and-a-half and on 21 plays, Azusa Pacific scored more points than it had registered in any contest over the past 2 seasons – and the onslaught wasn’t done.
“The coaching staff really did a good job of scouting and game-planning,” said Santa Cruz. “They thought some things would be there in certain situations and they were right. And the offense did a great job of executing.”
In the closing minute of the first half, senior PK Ben Hansen rocketed a 47-yard field goal, the school-record-breaking 37th of his career, to push the Cougar advantage to 38-17 at halftime.
Azusa Pacific recovered a fumble on the second-half opening kickoff, but the Cougars showed the only chink in their armor when van den Raadt was picked off at the Trinity 5-yard line on the first play following the fumble. The Tigers turned that turnover into a field goal.
The Cougars then fashioned their first lengthy drive of the game, going 90 yards on 10 plays to push their lead to a 45-20 lead when van den Raadt raced in from 6 yards out for his third TD of the game. Van den Raadt entered the game with just 2 rushing TDs in his college career. On the drive, he 5-for-5 passing for 75 yards, the big toss being a 44-yarder to Wall to get the ball to the Tiger 11.
Having already proved they could sustain long drives, the Cougars went back to the quick-strike scores and opened the fourth-quarter by going 93 yards on just 5 plays, highlighted by Chris Brown’s 44-yard TD run.
Hansen closed the scoring with a 28-yard field goal to capped Azusa Pacific’s highest scoring output since the Cougars scored a school-record 68 in a blowout victory over Valley City State University in 2004.
Azusa Pacific, which converted 5-of-8 third downs and collected a season-high 20 first downs, was so efficient in its play that Cougar punter Austin Kehmeier didn’t make an appearance on the field until midway through the fourth quarter for his lone boot of the day, a fine 44-yarder at that.
“We probably saw some season-long frustration being played out today,” added Santa Cruz, “but I’m really happy for our players. This is a special group of guys who won’t quit on one another in spite of the circumstances. Other teams in our situation might have checked out on the season, but these guys keep working hard each week and believing in each other.”
Azusa Pacific finished with 535 yards of total offense, the most produced by a Cougar team since they beat Eastern Oregon in 2005.
Van den Raadt was 16-for-21 passing for a career-high 299 yards. He rushed for a game- and career-high 114 yards on just 12 carries and had a hand in 413 of the Cougars’ total offense. He becomes the first Cougar QB since 1993 to rush for over 100 yards in a game. Brown finished with 104 yards on just 13 carries.
Wall had 6 receptions for 111 yards, while Andujo had a career-high 5 grabs for 46 yards.
Junior LB Jay York collected a game-high 15 tackles and in process moved his season-total to 114 tackles to become the first Cougar since 2005 to eclipse the century mark in tackles.
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 2-8 on the season. Trinity falls to 5-3.