MONMOUTH, Ore. -- Western Oregon snapped a 17-17 tie with 21 unanswered points in the final 7:11 of the fourth quarter, handing Azusa Pacific a 38-17 defeat in front of a homecoming crowd of 2,497 Saturday afternoon at McArthur Field in Monmouth.
Western Oregon took 5 of its first 6 first-half possessions inside Azusa Pacific’s 20-yard line, yet the 5 red-zone trips yielded only 3 points from the Wolves offense. Kory Johnson blocked a 24-yard field goal attempt on Western Oregon’s opening possession, and the Cougar defense stuffed Wolves RB Darryl Valdez at the 17-yard line on fourth-and-1 on the second play of the second quarter. Jimmy Young recovered a fumble at Azusa Pacific’s 15-yard line on another second-quarter possession, and Western Oregon kicker Kelly Morgan missed a 36-yard field goal with 3:26 left in the opening half.
The Cougars’ 5 turnovers and problems with special teams coverage eventually caught up with them. Western Oregon averaged 19.6 yards on 5 punt returns and returned 3 kickoffs for 157 yards (52.3 average). The Wolves had an average starting field position at the Cougars’ 42-yard line, including the go-ahead 3-play scoring drive midway through the fourth quarter that started at Azusa Pacific’s 38. Western Oregon’s Adryan Allen returned a kickoff 45 yards immediately following Chris Duke’s game-tying 35-yard field goal with 8:20 remaining, setting up the Wolves offense in Cougar territory for the ninth of 10 drives that started on the short-field side of the 50-yard line.
“We got our run game going in the second half, and once we were able to tie it up we really felt like we were in the right spot,” Cougar head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “I thought our defense played great and our offense made plays when it had to, but unfortunately the game got away from us at the very end.”
Despite spending much of the game backed up in the shadow of the end zone it was trying to defend, Azusa Pacific’s defense held firm and limited Western Oregon to 150 yards until the Wolves’ final surge. Wolves QB Evan Mozzochi passed for nearly half of his 73 yards on the go-ahead drive, hitting 6-foot-7 wideout Demario Ballard on a 29-yard connection to the Cougars’ 9-yard line. Two plays later, Mozzochi hooked up with Justin Ore for a 5-yard scoring strike and a 24-17 lead with 7:11 remaining in the game.
On Azusa Pacific’s ensuing possession, a personal foul and a fumbled shotgun snap for loss of 11 on consecutive plays sent the Cougars back 26 yards for a third-and-long incompletion. Paul Vanderwulp’s 46-yard punt was returned 22 yards by Lucas Gonsalves to the Western Oregon 45, and the Wolves marched 55 yards on 5 rushing plays for a 31-17 lead with 2:29 to play. Junior QB John van den Raadt was intercepted on the second play of the ensuing drive, and Allen punched it into the end zone again, capping a 108-yard rushing performance with a 12-yard TD for the final 38-17 margin.
Turnovers led to 14 of Western Oregon’s first 17 points, including Bryce Peila’s 43-yard interception return on a short third-and-3 pass with just over a minute left in the half, sending the Wolves into halftime with a 10-7 edge despite just 118 first-half yards.
After Azusa Pacific’s first 6 possessions netted only 46 yards, van den Raadt marched the Cougars 65 yards on 8 plays and punched in the go-ahead score himself with a 6-yard scramble. The junior QB hit 3 different receivers for 34 yards on the drive, and sophomore RB David Trifeletti gashed the Western Oregon defense for 22 yards on consecutive carries during the drive. Trifeletti rushed for a career-high 118 yards on 21 carries, taking over for injured starting RB Johnell Murphy in the second quarter after Murphy was sidelined with a sprained right knee.
“I felt like we saw what they wanted to do and were able to make our adjustments to get the running game going,” Santa Cruz said. “We knew it would be a 4-quarter battle with their defense.”
The Cougars’ fourth turnover, a third-and-3 fumble recovered at the Azusa Pacific 15 by Western Oregon LB Scotland Foss, led to another Mozzochi TD pass that put the Wolves up, 17-7, with 6:36 to play in the third quarter. However, senior LB Jay York grabbed a short snap and ran for 15 yards out of a punt formation on fourth-and-8 at the Cougars’ 44-yard line, the highlight of a 10-play, 58-yard drive that was capped by van den Raadt’s second rushing TD, a 5-yard scamper around the left end that pulled the Cougars to within 17-14 with 1:05 to play in the third quarter.
The defense forced a 3-and-out by the Western Oregon offense, and Trifeletti carried 4 straight times for 36 yards into Western Oregon territory to help set up Duke’s game-tying 35-yard field goal with 8:20 left in the game.
“I’m not the type of person who will categorize something as a moral victory, but sometimes the wins and losses category doesn’t exactly define what happened in a game,” Santa Cruz said. “Western Oregon had multiple opportunities in the first half, but they weren’t able to move the ball at all. We were able to shut it down and we played 4 quarters of football, but unfortunately it was that last 8 minutes that made all the difference.”
Van den Raadt, who entered the game averaging 123 rushing yards per game, scored both of the Cougars’ TDs on the ground, but he was limited to 22 yards on 18 carries. He completed 11-of-20 passes for 92 yards, spreading the ball around to 7 different receivers. Senior WR Aaron Wall caught 4 passes for 31 yards, both game-highs.
With the loss, its third in a row following a 4-0 start, Azusa Pacific is now 4-3 while Western Oregon improves to 5-3.