BOTHELL, Wash. -- Azusa Pacific’s second Great Northwest Athletic Conference road game turned out a lot like its first, with crucial turnovers costing the Cougars dearly, this time in a 41-17 loss to Central Washington University in front of 2,297 at Pop Keeney Stadium in Bothell, Wash.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific falls to 0-4 overall, dropping its first three games of its first season of GNAC membership, while Central Washington remains unbeaten in GNAC play and is 3-1 overall heading into next week’s clash with NCAA Division II’s No. 10-ranked Humboldt State. The Cougars will return home to take on Western Oregon at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 29, in just the second home game of the season for Azusa Pacific.
“Being on the road is tough, and when you start off against UC Davis and Humboldt State, it’s very tough,” Cougar head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “We’re playing a lot of younger guys, and they’re growing up quickly. What they’re going to find is that if you want to win this league, you have to win on the road. They’re going to see that the league champion has to be able to win on the road. My hat’s off to Central Washington, which is a big, physical team with the type of depth that we’re going to build here.”
All four turnovers halted drives that had taken Azusa Pacific into Wildcat territory, and three of those came on the Cougars’ first three drives of the fourth quarter. Until that point, Azusa Pacific had managed to keep pace with Central Washington, keeping within striking distance down the stretch when freshman kicker Jamie Cacciatore drilled a season-long 43-yard field goal on the opening play of the fourth quarter to pull the Cougars within 27-17.
“We had allowed too much rushing going into halftime,” Santa Cruz said. “Even though their running backs are very good, we challenged the defense to make adjustments and they came out and responded to keep us in the game.”
Central Washington answered with a five-play, 67-yard scoring drive capped by a 37-yard touchdown pass from Wildcat QB Ryan Robertson to RB Johri Fogerson that pushed the lead back to 34-17. Still, the drive took just 2:21 off the clock, and junior QB Tyler Tuiasosopo drove the Azusa Pacific offense 50 yards in five plays to the CWU 25-yard line, where his third-and-eight pass was picked off at the 12-yard line to kill the drive.
The Cougar defense responded, forcing the Wildcats to punt after a three-and-out series of running plays, and a fumble on the punt allowed Azusa Pacific to take over in the red zone at the Central Washington 19-yard line. Two plays later, a Tuiasosopo fumble was recovered by CWU’s Jarrel Johnson with 7:28 to play. The Wildcats were three-and-out once again, but another Tuiasosopo fumble after the Cougars crossed midfield was recovered deep in Azusa Pacific territory with just five-and-a-half minutes to play.
Central Washington kept the ball on the ground for all six plays of a 28-yard scoring drive, costing Azusa Pacific two of its timeouts while bleeding another 1:51 off the clock before Jordan Todd’s five-yard TD run extended the lead to 41-17 with 3:43 left in the game.
Sophomore RB Terrell Watson accounted for 21 of the Cougars’ 24 yards in the opening quarter with a single rush, and he rumbled 65 yards for a touchdown on Azusa Pacific’s first play from scrimmage in the second quarter to pull his team to within 13-7. After the teams traded punts, Central Washington marched 66 yards on eight plays for another TD, one of five rushing TDs on the day, to take a 20-7 lead. That lead held up until halftime, as starting QB Justin McPherson was intercepted in the end zone with 1:33 remaining on a pass intended for freshman WR Mike Martens. McPherson injured his hand on the play and was unable to return.
Martens later caught a 54-yard touchdown pass from Tuiasosopo, who took over for the injured McPherson, to answer a Demetrius Sumler 50-yard TD run and keep the Cougars within two scores trailing 27-14. Martens also had a 25-yard reception, finishing with a game-high 79 receiving yards, and Watson posted his second 100-yard rushing game of the year, carrying 11 times for 112 yards while scoring a touchdown for the ninth time in the past 10 games dating back to last season.
“He’s the kind of back who does well in this league, and we’re looking forward to having him run behind our offensive line when it gets healthier,” Santa Cruz said. “Terrell does an amazing job of working hard and being a tough runner, and he’s really developing into a leader on this team.”
Tuiasosopo completed seven-of-14 passes for 136 yards, while McPherson was two-for-four for 31 yards in first-half action. Despite taking just 48 offensive snaps to Central Washington’s 77, Azusa Pacific was out-gained by just 80 yards, 418-338, averaging seven yards per offensive play. Senior RB Oliver Petty contributed to the cause, running for 55 yards on six carries behind an offensive line that helped the Cougars average nearly six yards per carry in the game.
Defensively, Azusa Pacific was led by junior LB Sean Barber’s game-high 12 tackles, and senior FS Jake Mittel added 10 stops.
“Our interior (defensive) guys did well today, and you can see that we have guys who can play,” Santa Cruz said. “I like my team, I’m proud of them, and nobody in that locker room is backing down. We’re going through this together, and we’re going to be all right. The thing I like is that they’re humble and hungry, and they’re looking forward to getting back to work on Monday.”
Central Washington held the ball for more than nine minutes in three of the four quarters, finishing with an edge of nearly 10 minutes in time of possession (34:52 to 25:08). The Wildcats ran the ball 65 times and attempted just 12 passes, piling up 320 of its 418 yards of offense on the ground. Sumler and Fogerson each posted 100-yard games, with Sumler tallying 148 yards and three rushing TDs on 21 carries while Fogerson ran 26 times for 126 yards and a score.
GNAC scores: Saturday, Sept. 22
Central Washington 41, Azusa Pacific 17
Western Oregon 20, Simon Fraser 16
Humboldt State at Dixie State, 6 p.m.