AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific used big plays to post a big win before a big crowd Saturday, downing the University of La Verne, 59-14, in the neighboring schools’ first meeting in 7 years.
The Cougars fashioned 6 TD drives that required just 3 plays or less and scored on 4 straight third quarter possessions to blow open the game. Six of their TD plays were more than 30 yards in length, including RB Johnell Murphy’s 72-yard sprint that put the Cougars up 38-7 midway through the third quarter.
The Cougar offense registered a hefty 545 yards, the most by an Azusa Pacific team in 5 years, while the Cougar defense forced 3 turnovers, 2 of which Azusa Pacific converted into TDs and the other into a field goal, and held La Verne to 232 yards of total
"I'm really proud of how our guys came out with the win tonight," said Cougar coach Victor Santa Cruz. "We had to adapt because this was La Verne's first game and we had to figure out on the fly what they we're going to do, and as the game went on we did a good job."
Junior QB John van den Raadt used pinpoint accuracy over the top of ULV coverage to toss 3 TDs of 34, 62 and 54 yards and then rushed for another one that covered 56 yards of turf, all part of a stretch in which the Cougars scored 45 consecutive points.
It didn’t appear, however, that Azusa Pacific was going to run away this one, certainly not after one quarter of play. The Cougars scored on their third play from scrimmage, a 34-yard strike from van den Raadt to senior WR Aaron Wall, who did most of the work by shaking his defender after a short toss and racing down the far sideline for the score.
La Verne answered before the frame was out, taking advantage of Murphy midfield fumble. Leo QB Josh Ross completed 3 passes, including a perfect strike to a cutting Matt Griffin for a 17-yard TD to tie the game at 7-7.
It wasn’t until midway through the second quarter that the Cougars found their stride – literally – and they didn’t stop running the rest of the night. Van den Raadt first connected with senior WR Ryan Chamberlin on a 64-yard TD strike over the middle of the field to put the Cougars up 14-7.
When freshman Chris Duke made his first-ever college field goal, a 30-yarder, Azusa Pacific found itself with a 17-7 halftime lead.
Azusa Pacific scored on 4 straight third quarter possessions, first when van den Raadt lobbed a perfect ball down the right sideline to junior WR Matt Davis for a 54-yard score, Davis’ first TD of the season but the fifth of his career that was 40 yards or longer.
"The spread (offense) is hard to stop when its working well," said van den Raadt. "Our plan was to split their high safety with our 2 slot receivers,but they gave us plays over the top."
Van den Raadt opened the Cougars’ next drive, less than 2 minutes later, with a run down that same sideline for a 56-yard score that pushed the Cougar lead to 31-7 less than 3 minutes into the second half.
Murphy, who found himself on the bench after putting the ball on the turf twice in the first half, returned to action, and on the second play of the Cougars’ third possession, he bounced off the left side, broke a tackle in the secondary and then raced 72 yards to the end zone to cap an explosion in which the Cougars used just 5 plays to score 3 TDs and mount a comfortable 38-7 advantage midway through the second quarter.
The rest of the night belonged to the Cougar reserves but they refused to take the foot off the pedal. Back-up QB Aaron Strazicich highlighted a 5-play drive with a 21-yard touchdown pass to sophomore RB David Trifeletti for both players’ first collegiate TD.
In the fourth quarter, third-string QB Justin McPherson turned a muffed Leo punt return into his first college TD when 2 plays after the turnover he took a sprint draw straight up the ULV gut for a 15-yard rushing TD.
After Erek Brown scored a TD for La Verne on a 41-yard run, the Cougars came right back, or really Jake Steedman. The redshirt freshman carried the ball on 5 straight plays, covering 66 yards, the last 49 resulting in yet another Cougar TD and the final margin of victory.
The 59 points are the second most in school history, trailing only the 68 Azusa Pacific plastered on Valley City State College in 2004. Duke needed just 2 weeks of college play to put his name into the Cougar record book, matching the school record for most PATs in a game with 8.
Van den Raadt, who had 314 yards of total offense in last week’s win at San Diego, tallied 294 in just over 2 quarters of play against La Verne. He completed 9-of-13 passes for 200 yards and rushed for another 94 on just 6 carries. Through 2 games this season, van den Raadt is averaging 126 yards rushing, thanks to a 14 yards per carry average, and is completing 63-percent of his passes (24-for-38) for 178 passing yards a game.
Chamberlin had a game-high 4 catches for 68 yards, and Davis finished with 3 grabs for 97 yards.
Defensively, rovers Noah Peterman and Hayden Shaw each had 7 tackles, and Shaw added his first collegiate interception, which led to a Strazichich-to-Trifeletti TD. True-freshman Jake Henderson also registered 7 take-downs and had a hand in 1 of the Cougars’ 3 quarterback sacks.
With the win, Azusa Pacific enjoys its first 2-0 start to a season since 2004. La Verne drops its season-opener.