GLENDORA, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific’s difficult start to its Great Northwest Athletic Conference membership continued Saturday night, as the Cougars suffered a 20-7 defeat to Western Oregon in a game where both offenses struggled throughout.
The teams combined to punt 20 times, converted just four of 34 third-down conversions, and the strength of both offenses simply never clicked into gear. For Azusa Pacific, that meant its rushing offense, which featured the GNAC’s third-leading rusher in sophomore Terrell Watson, was held to just 53 yards of the Cougars’ 239 yards of offense. Watson was limited to just over half of the team rushing total, finishing with 27 yards on 12 carries, as Azusa Pacific was held to its lowest single-game rushing total since a 24-12 loss to the University of San Diego in the second game of the 2009 season.
Meanwhile, Western Oregon brought a passing offense that ranked second in the GNAC at 239.5 yards per game, but Wolves QB Cody VonAppen managed to complete just 10-of-28 for 133 yards, with his first completion covering 35 yards to Tyrell Williams for a touchdown on Western Oregon’s opening possession before he completed just 33 percent of his final 27 attempts for just 98 more passing yards the rest of the way.
VonAppen made up for his passing struggles with his legs, rushing for a game-high 127 yards on 18 carries, including a 36-yard scoring scramble on the Wolves’ opening second-quarter drive. From that point on, 10 of the next 12 possessions ended in punts for both teams, with a missed Western Oregon field goal attempt and the end of the first half representing the only possessions that didn’t result in a punt.
Midway through the third quarter, the Wolves took six plays to move the ball 20 yards into position for a 37-yard field goal that made it a 17-0 lead, and WOU kicker Kelly Morgan added a 23-yard field goal with 8:04 to play in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 20-0.
Only after the teams traded three-and-out possessions did the Cougar offense finally come to life, with junior QB Nick Owens completing six consecutive passes covering 39 yards before the drive stalled there with just over three minutes left in the game. After one more three-and-out for Western Oregon, Owens picked up where he left off by engineering a five-play, 64-yard scoring drive capped by his 20-yard hookup with Wade Struiksma.
On the scoring drive, Owens completed four-of-four passes for 57 yards, and he ran for the other seven yards of the drive, which kept Azusa Pacific from suffering its first shutout since the 2006 season opener against San Diego. Owens finished the game with a final passing line of 22 completions in 36 attempts for 186 yards, and his interception-free performance was the first game of the year in which Azusa Pacific has not been picked off. He connected with eight different receivers, although 10 of his 14 incompletions were targeted to Mike Martens, who finished with four catches for 29 yards but was open for a pair of potential long gains but was overthrown by Owens.
Western Oregon registered 188 rushing yards and finished with 321 yards of total offense, with VonAppen providing all but 61 of those yards on the ground. Kenneth Haynes rushed for 62 yards, while the rest of the Wolves’ ballcarriers combined for minus-one yard. Although it didn’t register an interception, Western Oregon still won the turnover battle by recovering a pair of Azusa Pacific fumbles. Kraig Akins led the way with a team-high nine tackles, including 2.5 for loss plus a forced fumble, and Sipili Tuigamalala registered 4.0 tackles for loss including the game’s only sack.
Azusa Pacific’s defense was led by middle linebacker Sean Barber, who finished with a game-high 11 tackles. Senior rover Spencer Danielson added seven stops, and he registered two of the Cougars’ six QB hurries, which played a part in VonAppen’s inconsistent accuracy in the passing game.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific remains winless through four games of GNAC play, and the Cougars fall to 0-5 overall for just the second time in program history. Western Oregon, which opened with three straight losses, has now won back-to-back conference games to improve to 2-2 in GNAC play and 2-3 overall.
The Cougars visit Simon Fraser next Saturday, closing out the first half of the 10-game double round-robin conference schedule. Three of the final five conference contests will be at home for Azusa Pacific.
GNAC scores: Saturday, Sept. 29
Western Oregon 20, Azusa Pacific 7
Central Washington 31, Humboldt State 3
Simon Fraser 41, Dixie State 28