AZUSA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific piled up 587 yards of total offense, and the NAIA's No. 8-ranked Cougars clinched a spot in the NAIA Football Championship Series (FCS) quarterfinals with Saturday's 49-26 first-round win over No. 10 Ottawa (Kan.).
Led by a big-play rushing performance from junior TB David Trifeletti that included 47-yard rushes on consecutive carries, Azusa Pacific piled up 379 yards rushing while scoring at least 49 points for the third straight game. Trifeletti rushed for a game-high 157 yards with two TDs on just 12 carries, and senior QB John van den Raadt rushed for 97 yards on 17 carries and threw for another 186 yards.
“We really just wanted to do our thing,” Trifeletti said. “We’re putting up 48 points a game, so we just want to play our game.”
It was Trifeletti, who sat out the final four games of the regular season, who delivered the knockout punch after Ottawa had pulled to within a score at 28-20 on Clarence Anderson’s 17-yard TD reception on the Braves’ opening third-quarter drive. Trifeletti busted a 47-yard scoring run on the fifth play of Azusa Pacific’s ensuing drive, and he dashed for 47 more after the Cougar defense sent Ottawa backwards on a three-and-out series.
The Cougars chewed up nearly five minutes of game time with an 11-play drive, and Trifeletti punched it in again from four yards out just two plays after backup QB Justin McPherson rolled out on a fourth-and-12 fake field goal to hit senior RB Joshua Morgan for 24 yards along the left sideline. That set Azusa Pacific up at the six-yard line, and two plays later Trifeletti was back in the end zone again, this time on a four-yard rush that pushed the lead to 45-20 with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“It was just great to be back and help my team out,” said Trifeletti, one of five different players who have led the Cougars in rushing in a game this season. “Individually, we’re all different runners. You have Johnell (Murphy) as a speed back, Terrel (Watson) as a power back, and I try to bring a mix of speed and power. We’re all different runners, so it really helps to switch things up to keep the defense on the field.”
Ottawa finished with only 34 rushing yards, but Braves QB Bobby Adamson threw for 323 yards and two TDs on 28-of-51 passing. He connected nine times for 115 yards with Anderson, who also had a 19-yard punt return and added an 86-yard kick return score that answered a three-TD barrage for Azusa Pacific in the first six minutes of the game. Anderson’s kickoff return for TD made it a 21-6 game with 9:10 remaining in the opening quarter, and he ended up being named the Outstanding Offensive Player of the Game.
Junior FS Jake Mittel, who entered the game with 13 tackles and one interception on the season, earned the game’s Outstanding Defensive Player award for a 10-tackle, two-interception performance. He picked off a pass at the Cougars’ four-yard line on the opening play of the second quarter, and he hauled in another in the back of the end zone to end an Ottawa drive late in the third quarter.
“I just tried to go out there and do my job, and the picks just came,” Mittel said. “The pressure (by the defensive line) was great, so when the quarterback had to throw the ball up, I was just ready to make a play.”
Among those pressuring Adamson throughout the game was sophomore LB Sean Barber, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles, including one of Azusa Pacific’s three sacks, along with three QB hurries, one pass breakup, and a forced fumble for a Cougar defense that ended up forcing five turnovers.
“We got a lot of turnovers and our defensive line got a lot of pressure on them,” Barber said. “They had some pretty wide splits (on the line), and that gave us some good lanes to go through. We didn’t feel like we played as well as we should have, but we get another week to get after it and fix our mistakes.”
When junior TB Johnell Murphy dashed 15 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, a shootout of historic proportions appeared to be in the making. However, Ottawa defensive lineman Zach Van Deusen took van den Raadt down for a rare sack, just the second all year against the Cougars, and Azusa Pacific had to punt from near midfield. The next three Cougar drives ended in turnovers, twice on fumbles and the other on a blocked 34-yard field goal attempt that would have pushed the lead to 24-6.
“Hats off to Ottawa – they’re a very tough football team that belongs in the playoffs,” Cougar head coach Victor Santa Cruz. “I thought Coach Kessinger did a great job with his team, because they just played solid, competitive football. It was easy to understand why they are the KCAC champions and were able win nine games in a row.”
After Ottawa went three-and-out after the field goal block, the Braves returned a fumble on the next drive back into Azusa Pacific territory, where Adamson connected with Shane Gimzo for a 25-yard TD pass with 2:53 remaining to cut the lead to 21-13. Azusa Pacific answered with a 12-play, 70-yard drive that ended with van den Raadt’s eight-yard TD pass to senior WR Jeremiah Andujo with just seven seconds to play in the opening half. van den Raadt carried four times for 33 yards and completed three-of-five passes for another 34 yards on the drive, sending the Cougars into halftime with a 28-13 advantage.
With the win, the Cougars improve to 9-2 on the season, and their quarterfinal opponent will be announced Sunday at www.naia.org. Ottawa's season ends with a 9-3 overall mark.