ST. GEORGE, Utah -- The NAIA's No. 10-ranked Azusa Pacific rushed for a season-high 442 yards, led by senior QB John van den Raadt's 145-yard rushing total, in a 48-19 road win over Dixie State (Utah) College Saturday.
Van den Raadt accounted for four touchdowns, including two long runs of 58 and 48 yards, and he threw for two scores, as well, to lead the Cougars to within 11 yards of the program's single-game rushing record (453).
“Just seeing our offense succeed is what makes me happy,” van den Raadt said. “It doesn’t matter which aspect we have that success in, just to see us succeed in different parts as an offense is awesome. It’s a great testament to the offensive line, because they put in hard work all week long, and for them to lead the way for us to get 400 (rushing) yards, that’s on them for doing a great job blocking for us.”
Van den Raadt and junior TB Johnell Murphy were both 100-yard rushers, with Murphy gaining 142 yards on 15 carries, and true freshman RB Terrel Watson chewed up 85 yards on nine carries as a two-way player who also accounted for 2.5 of the Cougars' nine team sacks in a dominant defensive performance.
“I don’t care where I play, as long as I help the team,” Watson said. “I just try to play as hard as I can on both sides. We were getting after it (defensively), just trying to be faster and more physical than the offensive line. We knew we had to rally to the ball and get the quarterback on his back, so that’s what we tried to do.”
Watson rushed for 13 yards on the second-to-last snap of the game, pulling the Cougars within 10 yards of the rushing record, but backup QB Justin McPherson kneeled on the final snap for a loss of two rushing yards to leave Azusa Pacific 11 yards off the all-time mark of 453, originally set in 1973 in a 37-7 win over Loyola. Saturday’s 442-yard effort marked the second time this season the Cougars have posted the program’s second-highest single-game rushing total, edging out a 441-yard effort in a Week Three win over Whittier.
“The only thing we’re concerned with is winning games, so records will play out however they play out,” Cougar head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “When you run this style of offense, you have to have some depth at the running back position, and the credit to all that is the offensive line. It was a really hot day today, and the heat zaps the life out of a lot of teams. Our conditioning was really good, and the offensive line decided they were going to be physical the whole game.”
Sophomore DB Nick Grunsky blocked a Dixie State punt at the end of the game's opening possession, and sophomore CB Silas Goma fell on it in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown just over three minutes into the first quarter, and Azusa Pacific never looked back.
After a pair of Dixie State field goals pulled the Red Storm to within 7-6, van den Raadt extended the lead with his 58-yard dash, and his two TD passes in the second quarter pushed the halftime margin to 28-12. The Cougars punted on two of their first four possessions but never had to again, as six of the final seven drives that did not end a half resulted in a score.
Van den Raadt was 10-for-17 with 89 yards passing, throwing for two second-quarter touchdowns. His leading receiver was senior WR Jeremiah Andujo, who hauled in six catches for a team-high 45 yards including a five-yard hookup midway through the second quarter that made it a 21-9 game. Van den Raadt and senior TE Tyson Hetzer later connected for a 12-yard strike on third-and-goal to push the lead to 28-9 with 3:09 remaining in the opening half.
In the second half, the Cougar defense held Dixie State scoreless until the final five minutes of the game, scoring 20 consecutive points until the Red Storm closed the gap to 48-19 with 4:06 to play.
Azusa Pacific was a perfect five-for-five in the red zone, scoring three TDs and two field goals from junior PK Eric DeLira inside the Dixie State 20-yard line, and for the seventh consecutive game the Cougars came up with a blocked kick thanks to Grunsky's first-possession tip.
“When you can run the ball and you get in the red zone, that’s a pretty big threat,” Santa Cruz said. “(Offensive Coordinator) Coach Carlton understands the red zone well and how to call plays down there. When we do need to go for a field goal, we’ve got a solid kicker in Eric DeLira, and the protection has been there for him to make quality kicks.”
DeLira opened the second-half scoring with a 22-yard field goal that made it 31-12, and that was followed by a 48-yard van den Raadt scoring run in the third quarter. Watson scored from 19 yards out with 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and DeLira tacked on a 27-yarder with 7:11 to play. The final 48-point scoring total marked just the third time Azusa Pacific, the top scoring offense in the NAIA, was held to fewer than 50 points, but the Cougars have scored at least 40 points in all seven games of the season.
With the win, Azusa Pacific improves to 6-1 on the year, winning its sixth in a row after a narrow two-point season-opening defeat to NCAA Div. I FCS University of San Diego. The Cougars are back in action next week, hitting the road for the second consecutive week with a visit to Lindenwood (Mo.) University.
“At this point of the season with three games left, you begin to measure your team and understand that you have to go from good to great,” Santa Cruz said. “That’s what we’re looking at now – how greatness is going to come out of us. It has to be team football, and I’m excited for the position we’re in, and our team is hungry to take the next step.”
Defensively, Azusa Pacific registered nine sacks on the afternoon, led by junior NT Jimmy Young’s seven-tackle, three-sack performance to go with Watson’s 2.5-sack effort from the edge of the defensive line. Sophomore LB Sean Barber registered a game-high 10 tackles, and four others had a hand in a sack for the opportunistic Cougar defense.
“We wanted to get our pressure going against Dixie State,” Santa Cruz said. “We thought there would be opportunities, as they had given up sacks in the past, so we wanted to dial up pressures that would be able to give us an opportunity to also capture the run when the quarterback decided to pull it. When you’re playing against their style, it puts some boundaries on the pressures you want, but I thought (Defensive Coordinator) Coach Willmer did a good job of getting us in position to get that pressure we needed. I loved the fact that the nose guards were also able to make their presence be known.”
In addition to Young, junior NG Manako Tuifua tallied seven tackles including a sack. The Cougar secondary broke up four passes, and Goma picked off a pass for his first interception of the season to go with his touchdown on the punt-block recovery.