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GLENDORA, Calif. -- A year ago, Azusa Pacific’s 4-0 start was ruined on a last-second 54-yard field goal in a 13-10 loss at Webber International.
Senior DE Jake Jones did his part to make sure the Cougars would avoid a similar fate, as he registered two sacks and blocked a first-quarter field-goal attempt to lead the NAIA’s No. 13-ranked Azusa Pacific to a resounding 52-23 win over the Warriors Saturday night at Citrus Stadium.
“We knew they had a really athletic quarterback who could move around, so we had to keep him in the pocket and press him into scrambling,” Jones said. “Sacks come a lot of the time on those passing downs, so they’re big plays. It feels great for all the practice to pay off.”
Mason Prater, who launched the 54-yarder that sent the Cougars to their first 2010 defeat last year in Florida, had his 22-yard attempt late in the first quarter blocked at the line of scrimmage by Jones, keeping the game tied at 7-7 until Azusa Pacific moved ahead for good on Eric DeLira’s 27-yarder with 11:11 left to play in the second quarter.
“Being able to be disciplined with our schemes was important, knowing how athletic Webber was with big-play potential,” Cougar head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “They came out firing right away, but we stayed patient with our techniques and did a good job containing everybody and finding that rhythm. I really liked how our guys performed tonight, getting better with each snap.”
After trading scores into the third quarter, the Cougars scored four straight touchdowns in a span of 12:03 to put the game out of reach. Senior RB Josh Morgan capped a 10-play, 60-yard drive with a one-yard dive with 5:14 to play in the third quarter for a 31-17 lead, and freshman WR Tanner Henry caught a 31-yard TD pass from senior QB John van den Raadt on the opening play of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 38-17.
After Webber went three-and-out on its ensuing possession, junior TB Johnell Murphy capped an eight-play, 71-yard drive with a six-yard score on third-and-goal, and when the Cougars recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, junior RB Oliver Petty became the fifth different Cougar rusher to find the end zone with an 11-yard dash to paydirt that pushed Azusa Pacific past 50 points for the third time in the past four games.
“We understand that you play the game no matter what the scoreboard says, and we’ll play the four quarters whether it’s tight or a blowout,” Santa Cruz said. “What I like is that we have a mature group starting with the seniors that has done a good job regulating the focus in our entire team. Our guys are hungry to play, and they love the game of football. If you give them a chance to play, they’re really going to relish it.”
Jones was Azusa Pacific’s leading tackler, making 10 stops (four solo), and the high-powered Cougar offense did exactly what it’s done all year by using a punishing ground attack that accounted for over half of the 501 yards of total offense. Murphy was the game’s leading rusher, scampering for 94 yards on 11 carries with a touchdown, one of five Cougars with a rushing touchdown in the game.
Van den Raadt completed 14-of-22 for 197 yards and two touchdowns, hitting senior WR Jeremiah Andujo eight times for 129 yards and one score. Van den Raadt also rushed 10 times for 56 yards and a touchdown, and for the second straight game he completed exactly 14 passes, was not intercepted, and threw for at least two scores.
“John gets better with each game, and that’s been his M.O. since he’s been here,” Santa Cruz said. “From the moment he got on this campus, he just works harder and harder and does everything in his power to get better.”
Both teams scored on their opening drives of the game, with Webber International driving 74 yards in eight plays after taking the opening kickoff to take a quick 7-0 lead on Deonte Fielder’s four-yard rushing touchdown. On Azusa Pacific’s first play from scrimmage, freshman WR Tanner Henry took a lateral from van den Raadt outside the left hash marks, then held up to throw a 52-yard bomb to senior WR Matt Davis on the first play of a four-play, 72-yard scoring drive capped by a three-yard van den Raadt TD scamper.
“Our offensive line is also to be congratulated today, because that was one of the biggest, most athletic defensive lines they’ve played against,” Santa Cruz said. “They showed they could handle them and keep up with the different types of movement they had, and our receiving corps was there to make the catches when they were giving us space on the perimeter.”
Webber marched right back downfield, driving 70 yards to the Cougar five-yard line, but the defense held Warrior QB Torrance Moise to no gain on a third-and-four rush to force Prater’s 22-yard field goal attempt that Jones blocked. Although it took Azusa Pacific two more possessions to get back on the scoreboard, the defense gave up fewer yards the rest of the game (137 yards) than it did on the first two Warrior drives (144 yards).
“We really wanted to pressure and take the game to them, and (defensive coordinator) Brian Willmer did a great job calling the right pressures at the right time and balancing it,” Santa Cruz said. “I liked the fact that our defense got more disciplined as the game went on.”
DeLira’s go-ahead field goal was sandwiched between two Webber punts, the second of which pinned Azusa Pacific inside the 20-yard line at its own 18. A 16-yard Murphy run, along with a 15-yard personal foul called on a Webber International defensive back for taking out a defenseless receiver over the middle got the Cougars into Warrior territory in just three plays. The drive seemingly stalled, however, when two rushes gained nine yards before freshman RB Terrel Watson was brought down for no gain on third-and-one at the Webber 38-yard line. The Azusa Pacific offense lined up for fourth-and-inches in a shotgun formation, and van den Raadt picked out a wide-open Andujo behind a Webber International secondary that sold out to stop the run for a 38-yard scoring strike that pushed the lead to 17-7.
“We had a good game plan coming in, knowing they would stack the box where we could beat them deep, and we did that,” Andujo said. “The chemistry and communication (between QB and receivers) is really coming around, and we know that John (van den Raadt) can throw the ball with the best of them.”
Prater hit a 42-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in the second quarter to cut the lead to 17-10 heading into halftime. Watson scored a five-yard rushing touchdown on the Cougars’ opening drive of the second half, which was answered with a four-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that kept the Warriors within a touchdown at 24-17 with 9:22 to play in the third quarter. It was after that score that the Cougars scored 28 consecutive points to put the game out of reach.
During the current four-game winning streak, Azusa Pacific has held each of its opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense, and the Cougars have yet to give up more than 113 yards rushing to any opponent all year. In addition to Jones’ 10-tackle effort, sophomore LB Sean Barber had a hand in nine stops for the defense, which sacked Webber International quarterbacks Moise and Chris Hart twice each while coming up with 6 total tackles for loss.
“We started off with a loss to a team we had beaten last year, and we were pretty upset about that,” Jones said. “We’ve been hungry to win and working hard, and the wins are falling into place.”
Moise completed 10-of-18 passes for 144 yards, and he was also the Warriors’ leading rusher, carrying 13 times for 49 yards despite absorbing two sacks. Defensively, Webber was led by Nate Keller and Ricky Carlson, who tallied a game-high 11 tackles each.
The Cougars conclude a set of six consecutive home games with next week’s matchup against McPherson (Kan.) College, which brings a 2-3 record to Southern California next week after suffering a 42-35 loss to previously-winless Bethel (Kan.), which hadn’t won a game since Nov. 14, 2009.