HELENA, Mont. -- Carroll College crushed Azusa Pacific's championship dreams once again with a long touchdown drive after a costly Cougar turnover, marching 78 yards for the game-winning score with 1:51 remaining to end the Cougars' NAIA playoff run with a 17-14 quarterfinal defeat.
Carroll took its only lead of the game on Chance Demarais' third-and-goal one-yard TD run, capping an 18-play, 78-yard drive that ate up 8:25 of the fourth quarter and left Azusa Pacific's offense buried deep in its own territory with less than two minutes left. Two plays later, Carroll's Joe Dunning intercepted senior QB John van den Raadt's pass at the Cougar 37-yard line to end Azusa Pacific's season on the Nelson Stadium turf for the second consecutive season.
Just before Carroll’s game-winning drive, the Cougars were on the move into Saints territory to seemingly add at least three points to what was then a 14-10 Azusa Pacific lead. After taking over from its own 25-yard line following a missed field goal attempt for Carroll, the Cougars pounded the ball on the ground for three consecutive first downs on the first three snaps of the drive.
An Oliver Petty third-down rush was stopped two yards short of the first down, but van den Raadt picked up three yards on fourth-and-two to keep Azusa Pacific’s high-octane offense headed towards the end zone for an insurance score. Three plays later, van den Raadt fumbled as he was hit at the Carroll 22-yard line, giving the Saints the ball back with 10:16 remaining in the game.
Junior TB Johnell Murphy rushed for a game-high 128 yards, and he scored from five yards out on Azusa Pacific's opening drive for an early 7-0 lead. The Cougar rushing attack generated 125 rushing yards in the first quarter alone, with true freshman RB Terrel Watson punching in a five-yard TD run later in the quarter to answer a Carroll TD and push the lead to 14-7.
Carroll cut the lead to 14-10 with a field goal midway through the second quarter, and neither team scored again until the Saints' game-winning drive at the end. Despite out-gaining Carroll by 60 yards (336-276) and gashing the Saints defense for 233 yards rushing, Azusa Pacific coughed up three turnovers, missed two field goals, had an apparent touchdown ruled incomplete in the end zone, and came up a half-yard short on a fourth-and-four run in the second quarter. Any of those plays could have extended drives or added points, either of which would have increased the possibility of putting Carroll into a much deeper hole early on. Instead, those missed opportunities kept the Saints alive for the game-clinching drive.
On that final drive, the Cougar defense made two impressive stops inside the five-yard line before Demarais was able to get across the goal line for the go-ahead score. On first-and-goal from the three-yard line, junior rover Spencer Danielson stopped Demarais in his tracks at the line of scrimmage, and Demarais was brought down on second-and-goal by a trio of Cougars at the one-yard line. On third down, Demarais went airborne to go over the mass of bodies at the line of scrimmage, and Danielson was there to stop him in his tracks. However, Demarais kept his feet churning despite the initial stop, and his second effort got him across the goal line for the go-ahead TD.
After a 16-yard kickoff return from its own end zone, Azusa Pacific faced a long field with just one timeout and less than two minutes of game clock. After Murphy was stopped for a three-yard gain that kept the clock rolling, van den Raadt locked in on his favorite receiving target of the day, senior WR Matt Davis, cutting across the middle of the field around the Cougars’ 40-yard line. The throw was behind Davis, and Carroll’s Joe Dunning picked it off and fell to the turf at the Azusa Pacific 37-yard line to end Azusa Pacific’s hopes for a comeback. The interception was the second of the game for the Saints, the other also coming from a pass intended for Davis, who made six catches for a game-high 72 receiving yards.
Although Carroll held Azusa Pacific’s potent offense well under its season scoring and yardage averages, the Cougars still out-gained the Saints by 60 yards (336-276) and wore down the Carroll defense for 233 rushing yards. After Watson capped a six-play, 46-yard scoring drive with his five-yard TD run that pushed the lead to 14-7, Azusa Pacific recovered a fumble on the opening play of the ensuing Carroll possession. That drive ended when van den Raadt kept the ball and rolled out towards the first-down marker on a fourth-and-four play from the Carroll 29-yard line. Van den Raadt appeared to extend the ball for the necessary yardage before going out of bounds, but the sideline official marked him out of bounds where his feet went out, a half-yard short of the first down.
After the turnover on downs, Carroll put together a 15-play, 50-yard scoring drive that resulted in a 41-yard Tom Yaremko field goal that cut Azusa Pacific’s lead to 14-10. The Cougars responded with a short drive of their own into field-goal range, and on third-and-eight from the 22-yard line, van den Raadt threw an apparent TD pass to senior WR Jeremiah Andujo. However, the officials again decided that Andujo had not established possession in the end zone although television replays showed that Andujo had in fact controlled the ball in the end zone and should have been credited with a touchdown reception.
Instead of another TD that would have made it a 21-10 game, the Cougars sent placekicker Eric DeLira out for a 39-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide left. The next Carroll drive stalled in Cougar territory to start the third quarter, and van den Raadt completed five-of-six passes on a 12-play, 78-yard drive. On fourth-and one from the Carroll six-yard line, Azusa Pacific opted to try another field goal, this time from 24 yards out, instead of going for the first down.
The kick missed wide again, and van den Raadt was intercepted on the next Cougar possession. After burning the Carroll defense with simple outs to Davis, van den Raadt went back to what had worked so far and tried hitting Davis again near the right sideline. However, Andrew Lopez jumped the route and turned the field position right back around with a 19-yard interception return to the Carroll 49-yard line. The Saints missed a 42-yard field goal on the ensuing drive late in the third quarter, and the Cougars rushed the ball on nine of the 10 plays of another drive that ended with a van den Raadt fumble at the Carroll 22-yard line.
From there, it was a steady diet of Demarais, who carried 10 times for 44 yards during Carroll‘s final 18-play scoring drive. Demarais finished with 128 rushing yards to tie Murphy for the game rushing lead, although Murphy gained his yardage on just 13 carries compared to Demarais’ 30 rushing attempts.
Neither quarterback completed a pass longer than 17 yards, and other than Murphy’s 39-yard rush from scrimmage on the game’s opening play, there were no other plays of 20-plus yards. Watson added 71 yards of rushing on 12 carries to Azusa Pacific’s ground attack, but Carroll held van den Raadt to just 16 yards rushing, the lowest single-game total of the season for the Cougars’ season rushing leader who entered the game averaging over 100 yards per game.
Senior DE Jake Jones registered the game’s only sack, and he finished with a game-high 10 tackles for a Cougar defense that had allowed only 10 points and 198 yards of total offense through the first three quarters of the game.
Azusa Pacific finishes the season with a 9-3 overall record, while Carroll takes its 12-1 mark into next week's semifinals.