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Doors Wide Open

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Published
October 30, 2010
By
Gary Pine
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ASHLAND, Ore. -- Junior QB John van den Raadt threw for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushed for another 137 yards with another TD to lead Azusa Pacific to a 38-13 victory over Southern Oregon University Saturday night.

The victory, which came in a light drizzle and before just 639 in attendance, snaps the Cougars’ 3-game losing streak and is Azusa Pacific’s first win over Southern Oregon in 6 years.

“We controlled the line of scrimmage tonight,” said Azusa Pacific coach Victor Santa Cruz who picked up his first win over SOU since becoming the Cougar mentor in 2005. “We were able to run the ball effectively, and we stopped their run. In the past they wore us down with the run, but not tonight. We stayed strong to the end.”

Van den Raadt, who entered the game as one top running quarterbacks in all of college football, used both his arm and his legs to accumulate 308 yards of total offense and have a hand in 21 points. His career-best 80-yard TD run in the second quarter put Azusa Pacific up 21-6 and forced the Raiders into a chase mode the rest of the night. He broke 2 tackles at the line of scrimmage and then stiff-armed a defender near the goal-line to complete the longest run by a Cougar since 2003.

“John is deceptively fast,” said Santa Cruz. “His stride is long and people underestimate his strength.”

With Southern Oregon now focused on stopping the Cougar ground game, van den Raadt picked apart the Raider secondary, first connecting with sophomore Lionel Fujioka for a 33-yard TD strike, and then hitting sophomore RB David Trifeletti with a 29-yard TD pass that put Azusa Pacific up 38-6 midway through the fourth quarter.

Both Fujioka and Trifeletti were filling for injured Cougars but it didn’t slow an Azusa Pacific offense that collected 462 yards of total offense. Fujioka came in Ryan Chamberlin, who broke his wrist just prior to Fujioka’s TD catch, and finished with a team-leading 4 receptions for 48 yards.

Trifeletti was playing in placed of Johnell Murphy, whose injured knee still didn’t feel right at game time. Trifeletti picked up 133 all-purpose yards, including 95 on the ground through 20 carries.

“It’s a sign of a healthy program when young guys can come in for injured players and produce,” said Santa Cruz. “I’m really pleased with how Trifeletti and Fujioka played tonight.”

The 38 points are the most an Azusa Pacific team has ever scored in 13 meetings with Southern Oregon, and as good as the Cougar offense was tonight, the tone was set by the Cougar defense.

The Cougars picked off SOU quarterback Paul Sweeney 4 times, sacked him another 3 times, and held RB Brandon Baldwin, who rushed for a career-high 278 yards against Azusa Pacific last year, to just 50 yards on 17 carries (2.9 avg.) tonight.

Midway through the first quarter, Cougar senior LB Jay York intercepted Sweeney and returned 43 yards for his first-ever college TD and a 7-0 Azusa Pacirfic lead.

In the closing seconds of the first half, York again picked off Sweeny, this time at midfield and returned the ball 29 yards to the Raider 21-yard line. The Cougars couldn’t cash in however after Chris Duke’s 27-yard field goal attempt clanked off the right upright as time expired (he would later nail a career-best 42-yarder). Nonetheless, the Cougars’ took a 28-6 lead into the locker room at halftime.

In the second half, the defense continued to frustrate SOU, which managed just 93 yards of offense over the final 2 quarters. The NAIA’s leader in QB sacks, junior DE Jake Jones sacked Sweeney 3 times in the second half, and his end mate, junior Kenneth Parker picked off Sweeney early in the fourth quarter after the Raiders had driven to the Cougar 15-yard line, batting the ball at the line and collecting it out of the air.

“Jake got faster as the game wore on,” said Santa Cruz. “It looked as if he was playing on a downhill field the entire second half.”

Sophomore RB Oliver Petty, who rushed for 66 yards on 10 carries, accounted for Azusa Pacific's other TD, his first as a Cougar, with a 6-yard run that put Azusa Pacific up 14-6 early in the second quarter.

The victory, convincing in fashion and coupled with the loss by the NAIA’s No. 22-ranked Webber International University earlier in the day, vastly improves Azusa Pacific’s playoff chances. Ranked No. 27 in last week’s NAIA Coaches’ Poll, the Cougars have to win the final regular-season game – next week at Lincoln University – and move past WIU and into at least the Top 20 by the final poll on Nov. 14. In addition to Webber’s setback, the NAIA’s No. 26- (University of Cumberlands), No. 24- (Black Hills State University), No. 23- (Kansas Wesleyan University) and No. 19- (Friends University) ranked teams all lost today as well.

“This is huge,” said Santa Cruz on hearing the news. “The door is wide open for us to get into the playoffs. I think our body of work speaks well for us, and now we have some control over our destiny.”

Azusa Pacific closes out the regular-season next week with a first-ever visit to Lincoln University, an NCAA Division II school in Jefferson City, Mo.

With the victory tonight, the Cougars clinch their second winning season since 2005 and improve to 5-3 on the season. Southern Oregon suffers its sixth straight setback and falls to 2-6 on the campaign.