GLENDORA, Calif. -- A week ago, Azusa Pacific had its season opener spoiled, so the NAIA’s No. 15-ranked Cougars did their best to return the favor for La Verne’s season opener, scoring a school-record nine touchdowns in a 65-14 win over the visiting Leopards.
The 65-point total fell three points shy of the school’s single-game scoring record of 68, set against Valley City State when the Cougars scored eight touchdowns and four field goals in a 68-6 rout in the 2004 regular-season finale.
“After watching the film from a good San Diego opponent in a great game last week, the senior leadership committed to fixing it all and getting things right,” Cougar head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “I’m always holding our performance to the standard of how great we can be. We’ve got to continue to improve the kicking game as well as some of our red-zone stuff, but I’m happy with how the guys came out and played.”
Seven of the nine touchdowns came on the ground, part of a 356-yard rushing attack for Azusa Pacific that featured seven ball carriers with at least five rushing attempts. No single player rushed for more than 80 yards, with junior Oliver Petty leading the charge with a game-high 78 yards on just six carries (13.0 avg.), and he was one of six different Cougars who rushed for touchdowns.
A huge part of the run game was the offensive line. They get all the credit. They had great run blocking tonight, and they have been soldiers working the way they do in practice and in games without a break. Tonight’s performance was a huge testament to them, as well as a solid running back group that has a lot of playmakers.”
“The whole offensive line played five-strong,” Santa Cruz said. “(Offensive Line) Coach Slater is doing an amazing job with them. Across the country, the biggest improvements are made from week one to week two, and the line took that to heart and did a great job tonight.”
True freshman Terrel Watson was Azusa Pacific’s Week Two workhorse, carrying 14 times for 49 yards and his first collegiate score, and Cougar QBs John van den Raadt and Justin McPherson rushed for exactly 100 yards combined, with McPherson scoring from six yards out in a seven-carry, 63-yard performance.
“A huge part of the run game is the offensive line, and they get all the credit,” van den Raadt said. “They had great run blocking tonight, and they’ve been soldiers for the way they work in practice and games without a break. Tonight’s performance was a huge testament to them, just as much as it is to a solid running back group that has a lot of playmakers.”
Van den Raadt bounced back from a tough opening week in which he completed eight-of-29 passes, taking to the air early and connecting often with senior WR Matt Davis, including an 18-yard scoring hookup on the Cougars’ opening possession. Davis registered 140 yards receiving on six catches, accounting for all but 37 yards of van den Raadt’s passing total, which came on 10 completions in 15 attempts.
“The passing game took a huge step this week,” van den Raadt said. “The offensive line got the protection cleaned up, the receivers made great catches, and that just gave us some great confidence in the passing game. Starting out throwing early on built up a lot of confidence for myself and the receiving corps, and there’s no reason we can’t keep that production up. The passing game has a lot to do with your confidence level, and I’m confident that the success we saw tonight will carry throughout the next few games.”
Azusa Pacific scored three touchdowns in the opening quarter and reached the end zone twice in each of the three following quarters to set the new touchdown mark. The Cougars turned all 10 of its trips into the red zone into points, and they dominated the time of possession by over 10 minutes. In all, Azusa Pacific rolled up 556 yards of total offense and racked up 30 first downs, and the defense was just as effective in imposing its will against a La Verne squad whose only score until midway through the fourth quarter was an 85-yard Allen Daniels kickoff return that cut the Cougar lead to 13-8 with 5:16 left in the opening quarter.
La Verne mustered only 215 yards of total offense with 13 first downs, and the Leopards were just four-of-16 on third-down conversions. Over 30 different players registered tackles on either defense or special teams, with senior MLB Sean Barber registering a game-high 13 tackles while Kory Johnson and Matt Moody each came up with 2.5 tackles for loss for a defensive unit that brought La Verne ball carriers down behind the line of scrimmage on 10 of the Leopards’ 32 rush attempts.
Senior CB Paul Royster and junior rover Noah Peterman each had an interception. Royster picked off La Verne starting QB Thomas Arguello in the final minute of the first half, and Peterman closed out the win with a pick of Garry Hedlund in the final minute of regulation.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 1-1 on the year, while La Verne drops to 0-1. The Cougars continue a six-week stretch of home games when they host another NCAA Div. III SCIAC foe when Whittier visits Citrus Stadium on Saturday, Sept.17 for its season opener.