GLENDORA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific got its ground game going to the tune of over 300 yards, at least after senior QB John van den Raadt loosened up the University of San Diego defense with a 66-yard second-quarter scoring run, but USD quarterback Mason Mills took to the air for a career-high 402 yards passing to lead the Toreros to a wild 42-40 win over the NAIA’s No. 15-ranked Azusa Pacific.
Both offenses were held mostly in check for three quarters, but they exploded for a combined 48 points in the fourth quarter. USD rallied from a 19-12 third-quarter deficit, tallying 27 points in the final frame of the two-point in front of an Azusa Pacific-record crowd of 6,124 in the season opener for both teams.
Mills threw for his 402 yards on 27-of-42 passing, tossing the go-ahead six-yard scoring strike to Sam Hoekstra with 8:07 left for a 28-27 edge, and just two plays from scrimmage later, Mario Kurn picked off a van den Raadt screen pass at the 15-yard line and returned it for another touchdown to push the lead to 35-27.
After the teams traded punts, van den Raadt finally began connecting with senior wideout Matt Davis in the vertical passing game, hitting Davis for 26 yards just across midfield before leading him into the end zone on a 49-yard scoring connection that cut the lead to 35-33 with 3:10 remaining. On the two-point conversion that could have tied things up, the Cougars opted for a handoff up the middle where junior David Trifeletti was promptly stuffed by the USD defensive line.
After a failed onside kick, USD ran twice up the middle to set up a third-and-three from the Azusa Pacific 35-yard line with 2:22 to play. After a timeout, Mason Mills fooled the Cougar defense with play-action, finding his senior tight end Kyle Lokanc dragging across wide open through the middle of the field at the 25-yard line. Lokanc hauled in Mills’ toss and continued untouched into the end zone for the score, and a crucial extra point pushed the lead to two scores, 42-33, with 2:14 left.
Justin Jones nearly broke the ensuing kickoff return for a score, although he was brought down by San Diego kicker Ernie Collins after a 45-yard return that set the Cougars up for the quick score they needed. It took 1:45 of the 2:07 remaining for the Cougars to punch the ball into the end zone on a van den Raadt scoring strike to freshman WR Tanner Henry from nine yards out, and the 12-play drive included seven incompletions. After cutting the lead to 42-40, the Cougars were unable to haul in their second onside kick attempt, and USD took a knee to run out the final 22 seconds.
Although he finished with 128 yards passing, van den Raadt had thrown for only 37 yards on 3-of-17 passing up until the final 4:24. He rushed for 165 of Azusa Pacific’s 317 yards on the ground, including a 66-yard second-quarter TD scamper up the right sideline after the Cougars had spotted USD a 12-0 lead. He scored another from six yards out with 29 seconds left to cap a 13-play, 83-yard drive and tie the game at 12-12 heading into halftime.
The Cougars were only able to move the ball a combined 11 yards on the first two possessions of the second half, but USD’s first two possessions resulted in turnovers. The first was Paul Royster’s diving interception at the Cougar 41-yard line, and the second was a DeAngelo Barksdale fumble after a catch from Mills. Sophomore Silas Goma knocked the ball loose after Barksdale turned upfield, and senior FS Shea Struiksma scooped it up and ran with it 35 yards to the Torero four-yard line. Junior TB Johnell Murphy dove across the goal line from four yards out on the next snap to push the lead to 19-12 with 8:28 to play in the third quarter.
Collins’ 39-yard field goal late in the quarter trimmed Azusa Pacific’s lead to 19-15, and the ensuing Cougar drive stalled at midfield. Mills hooked up with Hoekstra for 16 yards to get USD out from deep in their own territory, and he found Hoekstra again for six yards on third-and-four from their own 32. Two plays later, Mills connected with Kenny James for a 59-yard TD with 11:40 to play that started the fourth-quarter fireworks. Kory Johnson blocked the point-after attempt, keeping the Cougars within 21-19.
On the first snap of the ensuing drive, Murphy found a seam off the left side and outran the Torero defense for a 74-yard TD, and van den Raadt’s keeper on the two-point conversion put Azusa Pacific back in front, 27-21, with 11:22 to play. Kenslow Smith’s 41-yard kickoff return gave USD the ball right back in Cougar territory, and Mills completed three-of-six on the drive for 51 yards, including the go-ahead six-yarder to Hoekstra, who finished with 11 catches for 106 yards. Brandon White added seven catches for 87 yards for the Toreros, who accounted for 402 of their 489 yards of total offense through the air.
Murphy finished with 135 yards on 14 carries with two TDs, and Davis was the leading receiver with both of his catches coming on the same drive. Van den Raadt finished with 293 yards total offense, rushing 17 times for 165 yards and two TDs while completing 8-of-29 for 128 yards with another two scores.
With the loss, San Diego evens the all-time series with Azusa Pacific at 22-all, and the road team in the series has won three straight. Azusa Pacific remains at home for the next five games, starting with a Sept. 10 visit from NCAA Div. III La Verne.