GAME HIGHLIGHTS (VIDEO)
AZUSA, Calif. -- The NAIA’s No. 15-ranked Azusa Pacific nearly set the school’s single-game rushing record in a 51-3 win over Whittier, finishing just 12 yards shy of the all-time mark as senior QB John van den Raadt and junior TB Johnell Murphy each rushed for over 100 yards to lead a 441-yard team effort on the ground Saturday night.
The Cougars averaged 10.5 yards per carry and rushed for six scores, and another 178 yards passing gave Azusa Pacific 619 yards of total offense. Van den Raadt carried nine times for 139 yards and two TDs, while Murphy needed only six carries to reach the 100-yard mark with a 112-yard effort that included a 60-yard scamper plus a three-yard TD run.
“I’m excited that our guys are holding themselves to a pretty high standard,” Cougar head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “We have a group of players that create a culture of holding that high standard, and it makes me excited to see the growth. We still have areas we have to improve on, but they’re prepared to come into the film room every Monday ready to grow. When you have a team like that, it’s a lot of fun to coach them, and that growth mentality excites me about this group.”
The first offensive snap was a 24-yard van den Raadt keeper, and two plays later, Murphy dashed 28 yards to start a five-play, 80-yard scoring drive that gave the Cougars a 7-0 lead. Those two runs set the tone for a game which saw Azusa Pacific produce 12 plays of at least 20 yards from scrimmage, and van den Raadt was responsible for half of them with completions for 28, 20, and 22 yards along with runs of 24, 23, and 55 yards.
Murphy’s score with 9:16 left in the second quarter gave the Cougars a 14-3 lead, and a pair of touchdowns in the final three minutes of the half pushed the halftime margin to 27-3. Two long runs within the first three minutes of the second half, a 53-yarder for junior TB David Trifeletti followed by van den Raadt’s 55-yard keeper, pushed the lead to 41-3.
The final two scoring drives for Azusa Pacific consumed over 10 total minutes, and the defense kept Whittier out of the end zone with big plays near the goal line in each half. In the second quarter, Alex Mitchell’s 38-yard interception return set the Poets up inside the red zone, but five plays later Jake Mittel intercepted a third-and-goal pass at the one-yard line. On the final play of the game, Whittier QB Kelly McGuire was stuffed at the Cougar one-yard line to preserve the 51-3 final tally, marking the first time Azusa Pacific has held an opponent without a touchdown since a 37-3 win over Langston (Okla.) to close out the 2009 season.
“The whole team is growing and improving,” Santa Cruz said. “When you play a good opponent in such a good game the first week, the disappointment was really high but the humility that resulted is where you get growth. That’s a real credit to our coaching staff, and it’s a credit to the culture, particularly the way the seniors have a hunger to keep getting better.”
The Cougar defense, which held Whittier to just 50 yards rushing, was led by senior LB Spencer Danielson, who registered 11 of his team-high 12 tackles in the first half. Danielson also had 2.0 tackles for loss, along with one of Azusa Pacific’s four sacks. Twenty-eight different players registered a tackle for the Cougars, with 10 players having a hand in at least one tackle for loss.
Freshman RB Terrel Watson carried nine times for 76 yards, and his 26-yard TD run with just over a minute to play extended a streak of Azusa Pacific scoring to 11 consecutive quarters.
“Our depth is something we’ve tried to work on in our recruiting strategy, to get ourselves to a solid two-deep,” Santa Cruz said. “Our backups are very capable and understand what we do, and that’s what you want to see. You want to see the young guys hold the same standard as the older guys.”
With the win, the Cougars improve to 2-1 overall, while Whittier opens its campaign at 0-1. Azusa Pacific has now won seven in a row against NCAA Division III opponents and 10 straight over Whittier.