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Leaving the Rest Behind

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September 18, 2010
Gary Pine
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GLENDORA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific scored on 7 of its first 8 possessions and 5 different players had a hand in tabulating the points as the Cougars rolled for the third straight week, this time running by Whittier College, 46-21, before a crowd of 3,273 at Citrus Stadium Saturday night.

The Cougars scored 6 touchdowns, 3 on the ground and 3 through the air, leaving the Poet defense spinning in the turf, desperately trying to understand from where the next Cougar attack was going to be launched.

“In our offense every one of our eligible athletes needs to be a weapon,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Victor Santa Cruz. “We challenge our guys to demand attention from us and the opponents, and therefore be athletic enough to be involved in the offense.

It is clear, though, who is at the hub of an Azusa Pacific offense that was churning out yards at a fierce pace.

Junior quarterback and All-America candidate, if one can be labeled such through 3 games, John van den Raadt mounted another monster game in which he personally accounted for 384 of the Cougars’ 477 yards of total offense. The 6-foot-4 durable van den Raadt completed 16-of-23 passes for 249 yards and 3 TDs and rushed for 135 yards on just 11 carries (12.3 avg.), scoring another pair of TDs on runs of 51 and 7 yards.

If the Poets figured they had van den Raadt contained in the backfield, he fired bullets, to no less than 8 different receivers, and when Whittier couldn’t contain him, he ran amok, breaking tackles and running by linebackers, picking up first downs and extending drives.

“This has been fun,” said van den Raadt, who has accounted for 66-percent of the Cougar offense so far this season. “The run game I guess just comes natural, maybe because I’ve been playing soccer all my life.” Tonight against Whittier, Van den Raadt had 9 pass completions of 12 yards or longer to 4 different Cougars.

“There are times we call a play and we don’t know who is going to get the ball,” said Santa Cruz. “Yet, we tell our players to be consistent, do your plays well, and the big plays will begin to pop because there are just too many weapons in this offense.”

As they have frequently done through the early weeks of the season, the Cougars used quick strikes to take control of the game. They needed just 2 plays on their opening drive to go up 8-0 less than 3 minutes into the game. Van den Raadt hit senior WR Aaron Wall in stride down the right sideline for the game’s first touchdown. When Wall didn’t exit the field after the TD but rather slowly drifted to the far sideline, holder Matt Davis pulled out of a PAT kick attempt and lobbed the ball to a wide-open Wall for another a 2 points and a Cougar 8-0 lead

Five minutes later, Azusa Pacific moved out to a 15-0 advantage, when van den Raadt broke 2 tackles on a quarterback draw and then beat 2 Poet defenders in a foot race down the left sideline for 51-yard TD run to cap a 6-play drive.

Following a Chris Duke 30-yard field goal, the Cougars scored on their longest sustained drive of the night, motoring 56 yards on 8 plays highlighted by van den Raadt’s 6-yard laser to junior TE Tyson Hetzer, who was cutting across the middle of the end zone.

Up 25-7 at halftime, the Cougars blew open the game with a pair of TDs 5 minutes into the second half. On the second play of the half, van den Raadt found sophomore RB Johnell Murphy out in the left flat and another footrace was on, this ending with a 43-yard catch-and-run TD.

Less than 20 second later the ball was back in Cougar hands following a Shea Struiksma midfield interception, his first pick of the year. Instead of using the quick score this time, Azusa Pacific methodically moved the ball down field with the drive ending with 3 straight van den Raadt runs of 6, 7 and 7 yards again to give the Cougars a commanding 39-7 lead with 10:17 left in the third quarter.

To its credit, Whittier did not go quietly into the night but rather continually batted, relying on the strength and precision of Alesana Sausau’s arm. On the Poets’ next possession, the senior QB lofted a perfect 35-yard TD strike to Cardell Turner in the end zone to cap a 7-play, 68-yard drive and pump new life into a wilting Poet attack.

Azusa Pacific answered, this time with Murphy, who collected 26 yards on back-to-back receptions and then finished off a 65-yard drive with a 4-yard sprint up the middle for his second TD of the game that put the Cougars up 46-14.

Late in the third quarter, Whittier recovered a Cougar fumbled punt return, and Sausau responded on the first play following the turnover with a 31-yard TD toss to Josh Ollison, who made a spectacular leaping grab between 2 Cougar defenders.

Azusa Pacific opened the fourth quarter with a near 8-minute drive that did not yield points but nonetheless left Whittier with little remaining time and few options for a rally. When reserve Jake Mittell collected his first-ever collegiate interception, the Cougars had the victory sealed.

In all the Azusa Pacific defense, which had 3 sacks, produced 4 turnovers, 2 of which it turned into 14 points.

The Cougars finished with 477 yards of total offense, 258 on the ground and 249 through the air. Whittier countered with 300 yards, 127 of which came off the rushing of sophomore RB Kimball Tillman.

Wall led all players with 4 receptions for 85 yards, while Murphy had 3 grabs for 69 yards and finished with 31 rushing yards on 13 carries. Sophomore David Trifeletti collected 65 yards on 8 carries.

Azusa Pacific, which opens a season with 3 consecutive victories for the first time since 2004, has scored 147 points in those 3 wins (49.0 avg.), the highest 3-game output in program history. Meanwhile, van den Raadt is is averaging 330.7 yards of total offense per game.

“Across the board, there are a lot of things that are great in our play,” said Santa Cruz, “but the one thing that really stands out is our run game. We are running the ball, blocking very well and wearing down defenses, that only helps your pass protection all the more.”

Azusa Pacific returns to the road next week and will visit Chapman University is a 7 p.m. game in the City of Orange.