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Football To Be Tested in Florida

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September 29, 2010
Gary Pine
COUGAR FOOTBALL: Azusa Pacific at Webber International
DATE: Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010 -- 1 p.m. (EDT)
Legion Field – Lake Wales, Fla.

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THIS WEEK: After being at home in California for the first 4 games of the season, Azusa Pacific will head out of state for 4 of its next 5 games, beginning this week when the Cougars head to Florida for the second time in program history to visit NAIA member Webber International University in 1 p.m. (EDT) game Saturday (Oct. 2) in Lake Wales, Fla.

SERIES NOTES: Azusa Pacific leads the all-time series with Webber International, 2-0. In the first-ever meeting between the 2 NAIA independents, the Cougars beat WIU, 21-14, in Azusa in 2006. The following year, the Cougars downed the Warriors, 31-20, in Lake Wales, Fla. In that second meeting, the Cougars rolled out to a 31-6 lead after 3 quarters and then held off a late Warrior charge, using a midfield interception with just 3 minutes left in the game to preserve the victory in Azusa Pacific’s first-ever visit to Florida.

OUT OF STATE: Over the past 7 years no NAIA team has traveled the highways and byways of America quite like Azusa Pacific, which in order to put together a schedule has had to play regular-season games in Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin (4 times), Washington, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Illinois, Utah, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Oregon. Since 2003, the Cougars are 10-16 in games played outside of California, excluding playoff contests.

vs. NAIA: Azusa Pacific’s opportunities to play NAIA opponents have been rare over the decades. From 1983 to 1997, Azusa Pacific played just 5 NAIA schools. However, in 2004, the Cougars picked up the pace and played 6 NAIA teams in the regular season (9 in all with postseason play). Three years ago, Azusa Pacific played 5, but the life of an independent has its ebbs and flows, and this year the Cougars are facing just 2 — Webber International and Southern Oregon. The Cougars are 63-66 all-time vs. NAIA teams, but since their 1998 NAIA championship season, they are 26-22 which includes an 8-5 mark in postseason play.

NAIA INDEPENDT PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Azusa Pacific sophomore running back Johnell Murphy has been named this week’s NAIA Independent Offensive Player of the Week for his play in Saturday’s 35-17 victory at Chapman. In that game, Murphy become the tenth Cougar to rush for 200 yards in a game, collecting a career-high 206 yards on 28 carries (7.4 avg.) and scored 2 first-quarter TDs on runs of 1 and 6 yards. Murphy tallied 125 yards on the ground through the first 2 quarters of play, and then became an effective decoy that allowed QB John van den Raadt to score 2 second-half TDs on run of 50 and 77 yards.

NATIONAL RANKING: For the first time since 2005, Azusa Pacific has made an appearance in 3 straight regular-season NAIA Coaches Polls. Azusa Pacific is ranked No. 14 this week, the highest ranking for the Cougars since the 2006 team opened the campaign at No. 11 in the NAIA preseason poll. Webber International is among others receiving votes in this week’s NAIA Poll.

LOOKING FOR A START OF 5 STRAIGHT: Azusa Pacific is looking to go 5-0 to start a season for only the fifth time in the program’s 46-season history, and for the first time since 2002. The other Cougar football seasons that began with 5 straight wins are 1974 (finished 6-4), 1981 (7-3), 1985 (7-1-1), and 2002 (9-1). Interestingly, the Cougars never made the NAIA playoffs in any of those seasons.

PROTECTION DOGS: The Azusa Pacific offensive line, with 3 underclassman starters, is not only opening holes that have produced the second-best running game in the NAIA this year, but the Cougar quintet has allowed just 3 QB sacks in 4 games and 103 pass plays this season.

COUGAR RUSHING TANDEMS: Sophomore RB Johnell Murphy and junior QB John van den Raadt combined for 368 rushing yards in last week’s victory over Chapman, the most ever by a Cougar tandem, besting the former standard of 347 set by RBs Jim Farmer and Richard Woods vs. Loyola in 1973.

AMONG THE BEST: Azusa Pacific junior QB John van den Raadt is currently second in all of college football this season for rushing yards by a quarterback. Van den Raadt has rushed for 549 yards in just 4 games (137.2 avg.) and his 13.4 yards a carry is tops in the nation for all players, regardless of position. Only Heisman candidate Denard Robinson of Michigan has rushed for more yards as a QB this season than Azusa Pacific’s van den Raadt.

THE SACKMASTERS: While the Azusa Pacific o-line is doing a fine job protecting the quarterback, the Cougar defensive line is wreaking havoc on opposing QBs. Led by junior Jake Jones, the Cougars have already registered 13 sacks, 2 of which led to fumbles recovered by Azusa Pacific. Jones leads the NAIA with 1.4 sacks per game (5.5 in 4 games), and the Cougars are sixth in the nation.

TURNOVER TALLIES: Azusa Pacific is a plus-5 in the turnover margin so far. The Cougars have 13 takeaways through 4 games, and they have turned 9 of them into points. In fact, of the 182 points the Cougars have scored this season, 59 have come off turnovers.

SANTA CRUZ SAYS: “There’s 2 things that come out of the film of the Chapman game,” said Azusa Pacific coach Victor Santa Cruz. “we’re a good football team and so is Chapman.” I was really impressed with the effort level that our guys gave and their ability to get on track. The past 2 weeks we’ve had our way with the opponent, but with Chapman being a good football team, we were forced to make some adaptations. I appreciated the emotional intelligence our guys put forth to adjust on the fly.

“Webber is an athletic group. They are a good football team across the board. They have athletes, and they have size, and their quarterback can make plays.

“Traveling across the country is going to be good for us, so I think this game is going to be a good measuring stick for where we are. We have to clean up what we’re doing because Webber is a very good team.

“Out d-line is playing with passion and hustle. We’re not right all the time, but the mistakes we’re making are happening on the opponent’s side of the line of scrimmage. When Jake Jones came here he was 205-pounds, but he has worked consistently and got himself to this place where he is a dominant player. I’m proud of Jake for his patience and a determination that you do not see in a lot of young players today. His road to get to where he is now was not an easy road. There are a lot of players who would have washed out along the way, but that’s not who Jake is.

“When camp opened in August I didn’t envision us averaging 300 rushing yards a game. I would have been happy with 150 back then, but those numbers are a credit to the players and the offensive coaches.”