BURNABY, British Columbia -- Thanks to junior quarterback Nick Owens’ regular-season passing record of 425 yards, Azusa Pacific went score-for-score with Simon Fraser until the Clan scored 28 consecutive points to start the fourth quarter and hand the Cougars a 66-38 defeat Saturday afternoon.
Owens threw TD passes of 29, 34, 70, and 20 yards, completing 26-of-40 passes and coming just one yard away from tying the Cougars’ single-game passing record of 426 yards, set in the 1999 NAIA semifinals by Neo Aoga. Owens completed passes to eight different receivers for the second consecutive game, with Erik Johnson catching a team-high six of them for 73 yards.
“I was excited to see the offense come out throwing and take those big steps forward to get after it early in the game,” Cougar head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “I like the development with him and the young receiving corps, but we still have a long ways to go. Development is the right word for us – we have a lot of that happening right now, and we need that to continue to happen."
Owens guided the offense to a seven-play, 46-yard touchdown drive on Azusa Pacific’s opening possession, with sophomore running back Terrell Watson’s one-yard scoring run giving the Cougars their first opening-quarter touchdown of the season for a 7-3 lead over Simon Fraser.
That score held through the end of the first quarter, and Owens completed three-of-three passes for 52 yards in a drive that took Azusa Pacific all the way down to the Simon Fraser one-yard line. The Cougars had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from freshman kicker Jamie Cacciatore on the second play of the second quarter for a 10-3 lead.
A 41-yard kickoff return jump-started the Simon Fraser offense, which leads the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in passing by averaging nearly 300 yards through the air entering Saturday’s game. Clan QB Trey Wheeler threw a six-yard TD pass to cap a 51-yard drive that took just 61 seconds to tie the game at 10-10, and that possession was the first of 10 scoring drives in the next 13 Clan possessions.
Owens pushed the Cougars back in front, 17-10, when he connected with senior running back David Trifeletti for a 29-yard touchdown pass before Simon Fraser scored on consecutive drives to take the lead for good.
“We lost gap integrity in the second half, and when you play these teams, individual breakdowns can cost you big,” Santa Cruz said. “We didn’t do a great job in the second half defensively, but we’re going to correct it and find the right guys who will find that level of focus. You just have to get their offense off the field at the end.”
The Clan extended a 23-17 halftime lead by six points after an Owens interception gave the ball back to Simon Fraser at the Cougar five-yard line, but he came right back on the next drive to complete back-to-back passes of 20-plus yards including a 34-yard scoring strike to Nick Perez. That trimmed the deficit to 29-24, which turned into a 14-point edge after a chip-shot field goal and a 32-yard interception return for touchdown late in the third quarter.
Still, the Cougars hung around when Owens re-connected again with Perez, this time for a 70-yard score on the first play of the ensuing possession, and Azusa Pacific remained within a score at 38-31. However, the next three Cougar drives netted just 36 yards while Simon Fraser scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of the fourth quarter to push the lead to 66-31. Owens wrapped up the scoring with a 20-yard TD pass to freshman receiver Michael Martens with 3:13 to play, and he completed a 52-yard pass in the final minute.
“I’m encouraged with who this team is and the people they are,” Santa Cruz said. “It’s a lot of fun to go to work with them, but the maturity factor needs to develop and be brought to the table every single snap.”
Simon Fraser finished with 654 yards of total offense, overshadowing the Cougars’ season-best production of 474 yards. The Azusa Pacific defense was led by Nick Grunsky and Sean Barber, who combined for 22 tackles, along with a six-tackle effort from cornerback Silas Goma, who also recorded an interception, three pass breakups, and a PAT block. Fellow cornerback Darrell Wilson also registered three breakups, and freshman defensive tackle Talaisi Taueli registered two tackles for loss.
With the defeat, Azusa Pacific is now 0-6 overall and 0-5 in GNAC play, while Simon Fraser improves to 2-3 in GNAC play and 3-3 overall. The Cougars return to Southern California next week for the first of back-to-back home games. They host Humboldt State Oct. 13, followed by the Oct. 20 Homecoming game against Central Washington.
GNAC scores: Saturday, Oct. 6
Simon Fraser 66, Azusa Pacific 38
Dixie State 29, Central Washington 21
Western Oregon 42, Humboldt State 14