GLENDORA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific wrapped up a set of six consecutive home games with a fifth straight win, as senior QB John van den Raadt led the way with three rushing touchdowns and another two through the air to lead the NAIA’s No. 12-ranked Cougars to a 54-21 win over McPherson College Saturday night.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 5-1 as the Cougars head into next week’s first road game of the season, a visit to future NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference rival Dixie State (Utah). The victory was the fifth in a row for Azusa Pacific, which entered the game ranked among the NAIA's top three nationally in rushing offense, total offense, and scoring offense. It was also the second consecutive win over an NAIA foe for the Cougars, who have scored 40 points in all six games this season, including back-to-back 50-point performances.
The blueprint for Azusa Pacific’s five-game winning streak has featured an explosive run game, a stingy defense, and field-turning special teams. It got all three in Saturday’s victory, as van den Raadt spearheaded the ground attack with a game-high 120 yards rushing and the defense came a minute away from pitching a second-half shutout. In addition, the Cougars blocked a kick for the sixth straight game, and senior KR Justin Jones returned a kickoff 84 yards to the McPherson six-yard line to set up David Trifeletti’s first-quarter touchdown that gave Azusa Pacific the lead for good.
In all six games so far this season, the Cougars have rushed for at least 250 yards, and Saturday’s 315-yard rushing total was just eight yards off the team’s season rushing average of 323 yards per game. Van den Raadt reached his 120-yard total on only 11 carries, with his longest covering 33 yards on an option read early in the fourth quarter that set up his own four-yard scoring run the very next play.
Although McPherson RB Travon Jones rushed for two of the Bulldogs’ three scores, he was held to 33 yards on 11 carries as the Cougar defense allowed a rushing total of only 94 yards. The pass rush also disrupted the rhythm of McPherson QB Jake Snodgrass, who completed 21-of-40 passes for 216 yards but was sacked twice and hurried eight more times. Junior NT Jimmy Young led the way, dropping Snodgrass for an 11-yard third-down sack late in the third quarter after coming up with three QB hurries in the first half.
After forcing a three-and-out on McPherson’s opening drive, Azusa Pacific marched 69 yards on eight plays to take an early 6-0 lead on senior TB Johnell Murphy’s 23-yard run. Murphy, who finished with 74 yards on eight carries, rushed for 51 of his yards on the Cougars’ opening offensive drive. McPherson took advantage of the game’s first turnover, an interception of an underthrown van den Raadt pass down the left sideline with just over seven minutes to play in the opening quarter. The Bulldogs took eight plays to chew up the 39 yards and take a 7-6 lead on Jones’ six-yard score.
The lead lasted less than a minute for McPherson, as Justin Jones found a seam through the middle on the ensuing kickoff, following blockers all the way inside the 10-yard line where he was forced out at the six for an 84-yard return, the longest kick return for Azusa Pacific this year. Trifeletti carried five yards to the one, then punched it in the very next play to give the Cougars the 13-7 lead. After the defense held McPherson without a first down on consecutive possession, van den Raadt capped a seven-play, 51-yard drive with his first touchdown of the day, a three-yard run that extended the lead to 20-7.
A 36-yard Snodgrass pass on McPherson’s next possession set up another Travon Jones score, this one from six yards out to cut the lead to 20-14, but senior TB Oliver Petty dashed 52 yards on the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, setting up the first of two Eric DeLira field goals to push the lead to 23-14. After senior FS Shea Struiksma intercepted Snodgrass at the McPherson 40-yard line with less than two minutes to play in the half, van den Raadt connected with Trifeletti on a fourth-and-three play action pass that resulted in a 33-yard touchdown that pushed the lead to 30-14.
A roughing the passer penalty on what should have been the final play of the first half gave McPherson a chance to go into halftime with three more points, but Greg Ehrhart blocked Nick Kouth’s 38-yard field goal attempt to preserve the 16-point halftime margin.
On the second half’s opening drive, van den Raadt capped a seven-play, 50-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run, and he added another four-yard score with 11:10 to play in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to 44-14. DeLira added another field goal, this one from 34 yards, with 6:15 left, and a sack of Snodgrass by Api Foumai and Terrel Watson forced a fumble that set the Cougars up in the red zone once more. Van den Raadt connected with senior RB Joshua Morgan on third down for a nine-yard scoring strike with 4:37 to play, capping a run of 34 consecutive points for the Cougars.
McPherson went 78 yards in 10 plays, ending the second-half shutout bid with Snodgrass’ 31-yard scoring strike to Julius Record with under a minute remaining in the game.
Snodgrass finished with 216 yards passing, completing21-of-40 attempts to a group that included five receivers with at least three catches. He was also the Bulldogs’’ leading rusher, carrying 16 times for 42 yards. The loss dropped McPherson to a 2-4 season record, which included losses to three of the NAIA’s current top-15 programs.
HIGHLIGHTS & POST-GAME INTERVIEWS
Video by Kyle Pine
Video by Chris Duke