GLENDORA, Calif. -- Junior RB Lyndon Rowells rushed for 157 yards and 2 TDs, and junior QB Mike Proulx threw for another 3 scores as Humboldt State rallied from an early deficit to run away with a 49-32 nonconference victory over the NAIA’s No. 19-ranked Azusa Pacific Saturday night.
Rowells, who came into the night averaging 103 rushing yards a game, led a bruising ground game that methodically wore down the Azusa Pacific defense to the point that the Lumberjacks scored touchdowns on 7 of their final 8 drives to pull away for their fifth straight win.
After Azusa Pacific put a scare into the west coast’s top NCAA Division II team by moving out to a 17-7 lead late in the first half, Rowells begin engineering the comeback, first by taking a Proulx pass 15 yards into the end zone just 24 seconds before halftime, settling the collective nerves of the Lumberjack nation. On the first play of the second half he found a gaping hole through the left tackle and raced 54 yards untouched for another TD to give HSU its first lead of the game at 21-17. In a matter of 43 seconds of game clock, Rowells scored 2 TDs and it appeared the fight was on for the rest of the night.
However, the game took an odd twist on a bizarre play that only fueled the Lumberjacks with more steam while buckling the knees of the Cougars. On Azusa Pacific’s ensuing drive which stalled at the Lumberjack 48-yard line, Cougar QB John van den Raadt dropped a quick punt inside the HSU 20-yard line, but after freshman Jake Thomas batted the ball, no one downed it, and Lumberjack Jordan McGowan-Smith picked up the bouncing ball and raced 87 yards in the opposite direction as the Cougars gave a half-hearted chase, believing the ball would be eventually whistled dead. Instead, Thomas was flagged for illegally batting a ball forward and McGown-Smith was awarded a TD for his heady effort.
In less than 4 minutes Humboldt State had not only erased Azusa Pacific’s 10-point lead but assumed an 11-point advantage of its own at 28-17 just 3 minutes into the second half.
With Azusa Pacific teetering on the brink of oblivion, Van den Raadt, who befuddled the Lumberjacks with his legs and arm in the first half, came up big midway through the third quarter when he converted a fourth-and-5 play by perfectly lofting a 34-yard pass into the waiting arms of senior WR Aaron Wall in the back of the end zone. The TD pulled Azusa Pacific to within 4 of HSU at 28-24. But that was as close as Azusa Pacific would get the rest of the night.
The Lumberjacks called on Rowells again and again and again. On HSU’s next drive, Rowells accounted for all 42 yards of the drive with 6 rushes, including a 9-yarder to paydirt to start the fourth quarter, putting Humboldt State up 35-24.
The Cougars wasted a 49-yard Johnell Murphy kickoff return to the Lumberjack 37-yard line, unable to produce a first down and giving the ball back on downs. Humboldt State, which employed 10 different offensive linemen on the night, pushed around a tired set of Cougar defenders and put the game away with a 9-play, 71-yard drive capped by Patrick Gondkoff’s 22-yard catch-and-run up the middle for a 42-24 Lumberjack lead
The Cougars responded with a 14-play drive in which they converted a pair of fourth-downs and van den Raadt rushed for the final 20 yards to collect his second rushing TD of the game. Azusa Pacific, though, couldn’t recover the onside kick-off. Humboldt State motored 40 yards on 6 consecutive rushes to finish off the night’s scoring.
Humboldt State collected 188 of its 237 rushing yards in the second half, led by Rowells’ 115, and all told, collected 234 of its 405 yards of total offense in the final 2 quarters.
“Unfortunately, our defense didn’t play well in the second half,” said Azusa Pacific Head Coach Victor Santa Cruz. “Maybe our guys thought they had it taken care of in the first half, but that’s not what we’re going to be about. I take full responsibility, and we’ll make the adjustments on defense this week to become a great football team for the rest of the season.”
Proulx finished the game 14-for-20 passing for 168 yards. He got the Lumberjacks on the board by engineering an 11-play, 92-yard drive that finished with a spectacular 13-yard Gondkoff catch in the corner of the end zone that took officials some time to conclude was a good catch.
Again van den Raadt spearheaded an explosive Cougar offense, accounting for 343 of Azusa Pacific’s 435 yards. He rushed for 130 yards on just 15 carries, scoring twice, including an 18-yard sprint up the left sideline that gave Azusa Pacific a 7-0 lead with 4 minutes left in the first quarter. He completed 20-of-40 passes for 213 yards and 2 TDs, including a 15-yarder to Wall that pushed the Cougar lead to 14-0 just 5 seconds into the second quarter. With his effort tonight, he becomes just the fourth Cougar QB ever to throw for over 4,000 yards in a career, currently registering 4,208 yards in 26 games played.
Wall finished with 7 catches for a career-high 121 yards and 2 TDs. In his first start as a Cougar, senior Corey Besch finished with a career-high 6 receptions for 63 yards.
The Cougar defense, which surrendered just 2 first downs (both on personal foul penalties) on the Lumberjacks first 3 possessions, were paced by Jay York’s season-high 10 tackles.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 4-2 while Humboldt State improves to 5-1.