LAKE WALES, Fla. -- One man’s squander is another man’s hope.
It’s a polished version of an old-time saying about trash and gold, but Azusa Pacific will testify to the veracity of it nonetheless.
The NAIA’s No. 14-ranked Azusa Pacific wasted multiple opportunities to score points, allowing unranked Webber International University to hang around too long and steal a 13-10 victory on Mason Prater’s 54-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the game.
It’s a gut-wrenching setback for a previously undefeated Cougar team, and in particular for an offensive unit that came into the contest averaging 497 yards and 45 points per game and yet was kept out of the end zone the entire day. In fact, the Cougars had the ball inside the Webber 40-yard line 7 times, and yet all they could muster were 3 points off a Chris Duke career-best 42-yard field goal that tied the game at 10-10 with 13 minutes to play.
Prior to Duke’s boot, the Cougars had previous drives stall out at the Webber 22-, 26-, 39- and 35-yard lines and had nothing to show other than yards that went toward their 292 yards of total offense, which was 70 more than Webber tallied on the day.
“You kept thinking the offense was about to break through but it never did,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Victor Santa Cruz. “Webber’s defensive line is very good, and as a team they have a lot of speed. In my opinion, they are a Top 25 team in the NAIA.”
Azusa Pacific’s lone TD was manufactured by the defense when junior DE Kenneth Parker recovered a Webber fumble in the end zone to put the Cougars up 7-0 early in the second quarter.
In a sign of things to come, Prater connected on a 49-yard field goal with 3 seconds left in the half to cut Azusa Pacific’s advantage to 7-3 at halftime.
Warriors then scored their lone TD of the game on their first possession of the second half, going 64 yards on 5 consecutive rushes to go up 10-7 on Deonte Fielder’s 14-yard TD run.
The Cougars adjusted on defense, however, and yielded just 2 first downs the rest of the game.
With the clock winding down and the game seemingly headed toward overtime, Azusa Pacific came up a yard short of a first down following a John van den Raadt 5-yard run on a third-and-6 play. Webber called time out with 1:22 remaining and took full advantage of a 23-yard Cougar punt from Azusa Pacific’s 21-yard line. The Warriors moved the ball just 7 yards, but it was just enough for Prater, whose 54-yard bomb on fourth down narrowly cleared the crossbar but it give the Warriors their first victory over Azusa Pacific in 3 tries.
Van den Raadt rushed for a team-high 61 yards but it was 76 yards below his season average. He completed 17-of-31 passes for 182 yards but was picked off twice, including once at the Webber 14 –yard line on the Cougars’ first possession of the game.
“Actually, John played well but we were just flat overall on offense,” said Santa Cruz. “It’s a tough loss, but it’s good to have it this early in the season. We’ll be a lot better for this, and we’ll come back.”
Statistically, Azusa Pacific out-performed WIU. The Cougars collected 17 first downs while holding Webber to just 11. And Azusa Pacific had the ball for nearly 11 minutes more than Webber.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 4-1 while Webber improves to 3-2.
The Cougars return to California to prep for their final home game of the season when they host Humboldt State University in a Homecoming game next Saturday (Oct. 9) at 6 p.m. at Citrus Stadium.