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Counting Down: No. 2

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In 1998, Azusa Pacific was 2-2 at the end of September, but the Cougars reeled off a school-record 10 consecutive wins to claim the NAIA national championship in the program's first-ever playoff appearance.

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Published
August 15, 2013
By
Joe Reinsch

Last year, Cougar Athletics counted down the last 30 days of summer with the Cougar Countdown blog series, which contained 30 items of interest to Cougar fans leading into the 2012-13 school year. For the summer of 2013, Cougar Athletics takes a look back with a ranking of Azusa Pacific’s top 13 teams of all-time, which was compiled by the office of Sports Information with input from current and past coaches and administrators. The top 13 teams in Cougar Athletics history will be revealed one at a time each Thursday throughout the summer, culminating with the No. 1 team on August 22.

MAY 30 -- No. 13: 2000 Softball
JUNE 6 -- No. 12: 2005 Men’s Tennis
JUNE 13 -- No. 11: 1985 Football
JUNE 20 -- No. 10: 1998 Men’s Basketball
JUNE 27 -- No. 9: 1983 Track & Field
JULY 4 -- No. 8: 2011 Women’s Basketball
JULY 11 -- No. 7: 1980 Volleyball
JULY 18 -- No. 6: 2007 Baseball
JULY 25 -- No. 5: 2007 Men’s Soccer
AUGUST 1 -- No. 4: 2000-01 Men’s Basketball
AUGUST 8 -- No. 3: 2003 Track & Field

1998 Azusa Pacific Football

Record: 12-2
Final NAIA ranking: 8th

1998 Azusa Pacific Football Season Roster
1998 Azusa Pacific Football Season Statistics
1998 NAIA Football National Championship: Azusa Pacific Game Notes
1998 NAIA Football National Champions: Azusa Pacific (Season Review)

Plenty of Azusa Pacific football teams have boasted talent, and 1998 was no exception. Although other teams may have been considered more athletic, more explosive, and more dynamic, but no collective group other than 1998 has ever been so unbeatable. The 1998 Cougars were among the program’s fastest and most talented, a fact that’s often overlooked because that group’s toughness, desire and intensity was what made it practically unbeatable as it won a school-record 10 consecutive games and claimed the NAIA national championship in the program’s first-ever playoff appearance.

Perhaps no other team in the school’s history embodied the championship spirit and character that came to define Azusa Pacific in the realm of college athletics. Eight of its victories that season were decided by a margin of seven points or fewer, including all four playoff games, and the Cougars trailed or were tied in the fourth quarter before delivering the late-game magic, which became the hallmark of the championship run. At some point, it was no longer wondered IF Azusa Pacific could rally for victories, it was HOW they would come up with an unbelievable finish that could somehow top the dramatics of the previous week’s win.

The championship run could easily have been derailed at various points throughout the season, but Azusa Pacific consistently executed in the clutch, from the season opener until the clock hit zeroes on a cool December afternoon at Jim Carroll Stadium in Savannah, Tennessee. The Cougars’ 17-14 win over Olivet Nazarene in the national title game was a fitting end to the magical year, led by a defense that pitched a second-half shutout while Azusa Pacific’s two-way NAIA Player of the Year Jack Williams rushed for a game-high 108 yards, scored the game-winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, and clinched the victory by ending Olivet Nazarene’s final drive with an interception with just over a minute remaining.

“The national championship may be the most intense feeling of all the memories you carry with you,” said 1998 Azusa Pacific football head coach Vic Shealy. “For me as a coach, even though that group may not have been the most talented team we ever had, it was the best football team I ever had. They were great young men that made coaching fun, and I don’t know that I’ve ever had so much fun coaching at any point in my career than with that particular team.”

Williams was one of several key newcomers who provided an immediate impact to a program which had produced plenty of talented teams in its history without a single playoff appearance to show for it. He was also one of several players who played a role on both offense and defense, and even special teams, as well. The Cougars utilized the blazing speed of senior free safety Scott Thomas as a deep threat for the offense, and the defense occasionally “borrowed” NAIA All-American first team wide receiver Dexter Davis as an extra defensive back in certain pass coverage schemes.

“There seems to be a dynamic now that the offensive side and the defensive side are very possessive of their players,” said Gary Knecht, the Cougars’ defensive coordinator in 1998. “You have to look at the overall scheme and see if you can use players in certain situations to help the team. That was a suggestion I offered to Victor, to take Scott Thomas and some others to play on offense so they couldn’t double up on Dexter. We had solid possession receivers, but Dexter was the only real deep threat.”

Not only did a handful of players take on multiple roles within the football program, there were several others who were multiple-sport athletes, including Davis, senior tight end Justin Duarte, sophomore linebacker Joel Sanchez, and freshman punter B.J. Litchfield, who all played baseball at Azusa Pacific, as well. Matt Zaengle, a senior defensive back, was a former basketball player who played one season at Biola after junior college before transferring to the Cougars for hoops. The 1998 championship year was just the second of his life playing football, and he was honored as the NAIA’s Defensive Back of the Year by Don Hansen’s Football Gazette after leading the nation with a school-record 11 interceptions.

“That was a very athletic team, and that really helped us a lot in the long run,” said Gary Pine, who served as Azusa Pacific’s sports information director in 1998 and has since become the athletic director. “I don’t think any of those four playoff teams we faced had seen the athleticism we presented on the field. We had speed, and even though we weren’t the biggest team, we were quick to the ball. If we beat you to the corner, it was goodbye.”

Offensively, Azusa Pacific featured two newcomers at high-profile positions, with junior running back Jack Williams (BYU) and senior quarterback Geoff Buffum (Linfield), who returned to the gridiron after a year away from college football. Williams rushed for 1,647 yards, coming up just 33 yards short of Christian Okoye’s single-season record (1,680), while Buffum became the first Cougar QB to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season (3,053) while setting the school-record for TD passes (23), as well. Williams ran behind a unit that made it through the year with just seven offensive linemen, rushing nine times for over 100 yards, including a season-best 230 yards against Chapman.

Davis finished with school receiving records of 95 catches for 1,187 yards and 15 TDs, with six others registering at least 10 receptions on the year. Thomas, the full-time safety and part-time receiver, caught seven passes for 308 yards, averaging 44 yards per catch and scoring five TDs to serve as a high-percentage deep threat for Buffum.

The defense, which was among the NAIA’s national leaders in total defense surrendering just 303.2 yards and 19.9 points per game, was led by a speedy secondary. Hailed by some as the fastest defensive backfield in program history, it featured Thomas and Zaengle as the safeties while Williams, freshman Mike Cory, and converted wide receiver Bryan Frisina held down the cornerback positions. The secondary accounted for 21 of the Cougars’ 23 interceptions on the year, with senior linebacker Elbert Baker picking off two more while registering 5.5 sacks and a team-leading 109 tackles. Fellow starting linebacker Jamen Wurm, a senior whose career was put on hold after he survived a near-fatal car accident in 1995, recorded 107 tackles, and senior transfer Gabe Giordano ranked third with 92 tackles.

Seniors Oscar Burgueno and Joel McGivney, along with junior Tim Basiger anchored a defensive line which would prove to play a pivotal role throughout the year. Burgueno’s team-highs of eight sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss led the way, and McGivney contributed 3.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss.

“The front four did their job well, and I think Elbert was one of the top-five football players who’s ever played at Azusa Pacific,” Knecht said. “He was fast and strong, and he was just a great athlete. His playmaking and the guys in the secondary, especially the two safeties, really made us feel like we could line up and play man and cover anybody.”

Punt and kick returns were handled primarily by Davis and Williams, and senior Jim Daichendt was a consistent placekicker who never missed a field goal from under 30 yards during his four-year career. Daichendt played a pivotal role in a pair of the Cougars’ playoff victories, including the game-winner in a 26-24 victory over Huron in the semifinals.

“The very first player I had a chance to recruit to Azusa Pacific was Jim Daichendt, who was looking for a place to reinvest himself academically, spiritually, and in football,” Shealy recalled. “To see his growth and maturity over the years, and to see him put a stamp on the playoffs was something that helped bring me full circle to how it all began.”

The 1998 Cougars had the makings of a prototypical championship team from the outset, showing off an ability to control the ball on both sides of the line, especially when the game was on the line. That championship characteristic was evident as early as the season opener at San Diego, a game which went scoreless into the fourth quarter. San Diego broke through first, driving 66 yards for the go-ahead touchdown on a Cougar defense that had only given up just 106 yards through the first three quarters. In what would become typical fashion, Azusa Pacific responded on the ensuing drive when quarterback Buffum, a senior transfer starting his first game for the Cougars, swiftly guided the offense 76 yards on five plays for the tying score. His 42-yard connection with Williams tied the game at 7-7, and the defense stopped San Diego on four downs from the Cougar 30-yard line to give the ball back to Buffum for the eventual game-winning drive. Williams carried three times for the final 20 yards of the drive, rushing for a nine-yard go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute to play to open the year with a 14-7 win.

“One of the things you seek in your fall camp is to see how your kids handle adverse days, those tough days when you’re challenging your kids to show their resolve and toughness,” Shealy said. “That group never had a poor practice; what quickly became evident was the team chemistry, the quality of the locker room, and the relationship aspect that was building. You could sense in those first couple of weeks, that group was going to be a group of kids that would care for each other.”

The following week in the home opener, the Cougars faced a seven-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter against Olivet Nazarene. Again, Buffum answered with scoring drives on each of the next two possessions, hitting his NAIA All-American first team wide receiver Dexter Davis with touchdown passes of 21 and 27 yards to push the Cougars back in front, 31-24, with 4:14 left. Olivet Nazarene converted a fourth-and-one near midfield as it marched towards the potential game-tying score, driving inside the 10-yard line for first-and-goal from the four-yard line with 2:13 to play. Olivet Nazarene running back Hollist Brown picked up three yards on first down, but he was stuffed on each of the next three plays at the goal line, securing a big victory for the Cougars over a quality NAIA program in Olivet Nazarene, which had been ranked 15th in the NAIA’s preseason coaches poll.

“That was a wonderful game and an amazing finish, and at that point I thought it was probably the greatest finish I’d ever seen to a football game,” Pine recalled. “We just kept having them game after game.”

For the 10th time in program history, Azusa Pacific had opened a season with back-to-back wins, but a visit to Central Washington took some wind out of the Cougars’ sails, especially after the defense allowed CWU running back Dan Murphy to rush for a CWU single-game record 269 yards on 24 carries. Murphy scored three touchdowns in a span of less than 10 minutes, starting with a game-turning 38-yard scamper with just 11 seconds left in the second quarter. The blowout defeat, which should have been closer than the final score indicated, put a damper on the early-season enthusiasm. Despite racing out to a 17-0 lead in the opening quarter of the next week’s visit to Hardin-Simmons University, a strong NCAA Division III program in Abilene, Texas, the Cougars stumbled again in a 30-17 defeat that sent them tumbling out of the Top 25 rankings.

“We knew we had enough talent to compete, so while those two games were disappointing to lose, sometimes when you play tough teams early on who bloody your nose a little bit, that helps you find those areas as a coach that you need to go in and work the hardest to improve,” Shealy said. “I have great memories of the coaching staff staying the course, and I’m very grateful because I thought that staff showed a tremendous amount of leadership. At that point in time, we compared it to a boxing match – you don’t have to win every round, but you can still win the battle. Ultimately, we just needed to answer the bell and win the next round.”

Even in defeat, there remained signs of hope, but the season’s fading playoff hopes hinged on a return home to face Chapman, a program it had never beaten in four previous meetings. Chapman converted on third-and-goal for a touchdown on the final play of the third quarter to take a 21-20 edge into the fourth quarter, and the Cougars answered the bell. A 35-yard scamper from Williams helped set up Buffum’s 10-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Davis on the ensuing drive, giving the Cougars a 26-21 lead with 11:55 to play. After driving for a first-and-goal at the nine-yard line with less than three minutes left, Chapman had Azusa Pacific on the ropes, in danger of losing its third straight game. The Cougars responded with another goal-line stand, this time driving Chapman back 20 yards on penalties with a fourth-and-19 pass falling incomplete to secure the five-point win.

That was the first of three consecutive home victories, as Azusa Pacific followed the Chapman win with a 42-22 blowout over La Verne and a 20-13 win over Humboldt State. The Cougars led 42-3 against La Verne before coasting to the win, and it was another defensive stand on fourth-and-one at its own four-yard line that stopped Humboldt State’s fourth-quarter rally in the closing seconds.

At 5-2, the Cougars were back in the thick of the playoff chase, quickly moving back into the weekly NAIA coaches poll after the La Verne win and climbing back to 16th after Humboldt State. It turned out to be the perfect season to recover from early losses, as only three of the NAIA’s preseason top 10 programs would end up making the 16-team playoff field. A 27-9 road win over Whittier College propelled Azusa Pacific into the top 10, and after rolling to a 49-7 win over Occidental behind 200 rushing yards from junior running back DeAngelo Gossett, the Cougars were one win away from securing the program’s first-ever NAIA playoff berth.

The only thing blocking Azusa Pacific’s path to the playoffs was a visit to a 6-1 Pomona-Pitzer squad, a late-season situation that simply hadn’t ever gone the way Azusa Pacific wanted throughout the course of the program’s history. Just two years earlier, the Cougars had taken a 7-1 record into the final two weeks of the regular season but finished 7-3 and out of the playoff picture. Pomona-Pitzer certainly fit the profile of the last regular-season opponent Azusa Pacific wanted to face with a playoff berth on the line, and it stayed within striking distance of the Cougars until Buffum hit Thomas for a 90-yard touchdown pass with 9:40 remaining. That, along with the Cougar defense posting its first shutout since 1990, put the exclamation point on an 8-2 regular season.

“Just making the playoffs was a huge emotional moment because the team two years earlier was on the cusp of making the playoffs and lost their last two games,” Pine said. “There were probably some guys from that 1996 team who wondered if we could hang on this time. We knew we had to win the last game to make the playoffs, but you could see their confidence and belief in one another develop as that winning streak developed. Their confidence grew by leaps and bounds as the season went on, and they were a very confident group going into the playoffs.”

The victory not only clinched Azusa Pacific’s first-ever playoff appearance; it also spurred the university’s administration, led by university president Dr. Richard Felix, into putting together an aggressive host bid for the first-round of the playoffs. The NAIA awarded the first-round home game to No. 8-ranked Azusa Pacific, which hosted another first-time playoff participant, No. 7-ranked Taylor (Ind.) University.

“Once we secured a playoff slot, our administration was able to step in and provide some mature leadership with the support of President Felix,” Shealy said. “Our university helped our kids significantly from an academic standpoint by doing what it took to keep them from having to travel during the playoffs. Our kids probably stayed healthier and more refreshed, and while the playoffs reward the best teams, they also tend to reward the teams that stay healthy and handle the long season. Our administration helped our kids out, both academically and with the fatigue factor as they got into a deep playoff run, where the fatigue really does add up from such a long season.”

After jumping out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter, Azusa Pacific surrendered a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half that cut the lead to 21-7. Baker ran back an interception for a touchdown that pushed the lead back to 28-7, but Taylor scrapped its option rushing attack and tied the game with touchdown throws of 53, 38, and 34 yards to tie the game at 28-28 with 3:34 remaining. Buffum completed two third-down passes to drive the Cougars into field goal range, and Daichendt drilled the game-winning 27-yard field goal with eight seconds left.

“I’ll never forget that drive, and as a placekicker, those drives take forever,” Daichendt recalled. “It felt very slow, and it was typical Geoff, just marching us down the field. I was very nervous about getting the kick high enough to keep it from getting blocked, so I just tried to kick it as high as possible. There was an electricity for football on this campus that I’d never seen before, and there was so much excitement to play at home.”

Azusa Pacific was paired in the quarterfinals with No. 15-ranked Central Washington, hosting the same Wildcats team that already had a big win over the Cougars under its belt with the 51-17 mid-September blowout in Ellensburg. Central Washington was also fresh off a three-point playoff win, although its victory was an overtime win over previously-unbeaten No. 2-ranked Rocky Mountain.

“Central Washington had crushed us the first time, and I can honestly say that was one of the few times I’d been in a situation with a defense that quit,” Knecht recalled. “That was a dynamic I addressed when we came back from that early loss, and they realized they had quit at that point in time and were determined not to let it happen again. We showed the first time that we didn’t belong on the same field with Central Washington, and we would have to either lay down or rise up to the challenge they presented.”

Dan Murphy, who had ripped the Cougar defense to shreds with a school-record 269 rushing yards in the year’s first meeting between the teams, was held to five yards on 11 carries in the rematch. The Cougars burst to a 28-7 lead for the second consecutive week, but even after closing the gap to a touchdown at 35-28 early in the fourth quarter, Central Washington wasn’t able to get past midfield on either of its final two possessions.

“We didn’t want Murphy to be a factor this time around,” Knecht said. “I thought we should have played better defense in the playoff opener against Taylor, but I thought we really stepped up against Central Washington.”

Zaengle’s interception, his third of the game and school-record 10th of the year (he ended the year with 11), ended Central Washington’s final drive, and the Cougars ran out the final 3:15 to advance to the semifinals. Buffum, whose availability for the game had been doubtful due to a sprained shoulder that required a pre-game anesthetic shot, battled through the pain to complete 15-of-26 passes for 159 yards, including the go-ahead 37-yard touchdown pass to Thomas that put Azusa Pacific in front for good.

“That win gets sandwiched between two of the most dramatic wins in the program’s history, but that was a statement game if ever there was one in this program’s history,” Pine said. “Central Washington came down knowing they could beat us, and they instead they found a match they weren’t expecting.”

That brought another round of playoff football to Azusa for a matchup with No. 13-ranked Huron (S.D.), which had boasted the NAIA’s top scoring offense and had gone on the road for playoff wins over a pair of Top-10 foes by a combined score of 113-25 to set up its semifinals visit to Azusa Pacific. For nearly three quarters, the Cougars were able to keep Huron’s explosive offense in check, taking a 23-14 lead into the fourth quarter. However, a pair of touchdowns in less than six minutes in the fourth quarter put Huron in front by a 24-23 margin, and for the second time in three weeks Azusa Pacific’s playoff fate hinged on the right foot of Daichendt.

Just setting up the potential game-winning try for Daichendt was no easy task. The Cougars converted third-and-four from their own 31 with a 17-yard pass from Buffum to Duarte, the senior tight end. Three plays later, it was freshman fullback Adam Shelly who picked up two yards for another set of downs on third-and-one from the Huron 43. A third-and-seven pass from Buffum to Williams fell incomplete, setting up a fourth-and-seven from the Huron 38-yard line. A long field goal was out of Daichendt’s kicking range, so on fourth-and-seven Buffum stepped back to throw and found Davis for a 27-yard catch-and-run to the 11-yard line with less than two minutes remaining.

“The fourth down play to Dexter, he caught it near the line of scrimmage and had to run parallel for a good 15 yards before he cut back and got the first down and just kept running downfield,” said Pine, recalling the play from his bird’s-eye view in the press box. “It’s fourth down with all our championship hopes on the line, and we throw a pass that’s not even a first down pass, but Dexter has this great speed to beat his man to the corner and continue running downfield. To me, that was right up there as one of the top-five single-play moments in Azusa Pacific history. It was one of the greatest clutch moments, and it was followed by one of the most nerve-wracking moments in Jim Daichendt’s field goal.”

The Cougars positioned for the field goal as Huron spent its last two timeouts, and although Daichendt’s 23-yard attempt was tipped at the line, he had gotten more than enough leg on it to spin it through the uprights for a 26-24 lead with 1:02 to play.

“As a kicker, you can’t think about the weight of the situation, or else you’d be paralyzed,” recalled Daichendt, who is now a professor in the Department of Art and Design at Azusa Pacific . “It’s the stereotypical thing with kickers, that you’re either the hero or the goat. It doesn’t matter what else you’ve done in the season or in that game, if I had missed that kick, everyone on the team would always remember me as the guy who kept them from getting to the championship game. I honestly don’t think I would still be working here today if I’d missed that kick, and I’m certainly glad I didn’t think about any of that at the time.”

On Knecht’s advice, Daichendt sent the kickoff low and short to one of Huron’s upbacks, who fumbled it at the 27-yard line. The Cougars recovered the fumble and ran out the clock to clinch a spot in the national championship game.

Awaiting Azusa Pacific in the title game was another familiar opponent, the same Olivet Nazarene team the Cougars had stuffed at the goal line in the second game of the season. The title-game participants were both making the first playoff appearances in program history, and both had won all three playoff games by a touchdown or less.

“You could probably say there was some feeling of justification that we got into the playoffs, because I felt we were certainly one of the top teams in the nation that year,” Shealy said. “We were capable of playing good defense at critical times , and we were capable of being a dynamic scoring team at critical times, and we were very sound in the kicking game. We were solid in all three of those areas, so there was no doubt in my mind that we would be a real factor if we got into the playoffs.”

Fittingly, it was a fourth-quarter come-from-behind win that netted Azusa Pacific its first-ever national title in a game the Cougars trailed at halftime, 14-7. Olivet took the opening second-half drive to the Azusa Pacific 32-yard line, but a critical fourth-down stop set the tone for the rest of the game. From that point on, Olivet Nazarene never again crossed midfield and couldn’t even pick up another first down against the stingy Cougar defense.

During an eight-minute drive late in the third quarter and into the fourth, Azusa Pacific inched closer and closer to the end zone, taking 15 plays to cover 35 yards and get to within a yard of the potential game-tying score. However, on fourth-and-goal at the two-yard line, Buffum’s toss into the end zone was intercepted, keeping the score at 14-7 despite the way the Cougars had taken control of the game.

After the touchback on the interception, Baker rushed the quarterback out of a defense which Knecht remembered as Baker having coverage responsibilities of the tight end. It didn’t matter, as Baker forced a fumble that the Olivet Nazarene quarterback kicked out of the back of the end zone for a safety. That cut the lead to 14-9, and after Williams returned the free kick into Olivet territory, Buffum completed passes of 16 and 24 yards to Davis, setting the Cougars back up with first-and-goal at the six.

Following an incompletion on first down and a two-yard run for Williams on second down, Buffum handed to Williams again on third-and-goal from the four, and Williams carried it across the goal line to give Azusa Pacific a 15-14 lead. Williams, voted the Offensive Player of the Game, also caught a pass for the two-point conversion.

“I believe to this day, as I did then, that the offensive line is the heartbeat of your football team, and we had a tremendous offensive line,” Shealy said. “We could run the football, and we were committed to it, and I think there’s probably no greater illustration of that than the final game, when we had fourth-and-one on our own 40-yard line. We had the confidence to make that yard as opposed to punting. When you have that kind of team that can run the ball on offense, it solves a lot of other problems you might have as a football team. You can physically wear down your opponent, you’ll possess the football and limit the possessions of your opponent.”

The final 8:34 was all defense, as the Cougars drove Olivet Nazarene backwards 19 yards on its next two possessions before Williams ended the Tigers’ last chance with a game-clinching interception at the Olivet 30-yard line with less than two minutes to play.

The Cougars broke or tied more than 10 school records during 1998, winning a school-record 10 consecutive games to complete an improbable season full of impossible finishes. The title game was the seventh time Azusa Pacific won a game that was decided in the final two minutes. Williams, the NAIA Player of the Year, was one of three NAIA All-American first team honorees, which included Davis and Zaengle. Shealy was named the NAIA Coach of the Year after leading the Cougars to the national title in the program’s first-ever NAIA playoff appearance.

“I remember a couple of times at the Monday practice after the playoff wins, the kids had such great joy to be playing another ballgame,” Shealy recalled. “It was a childlike love to be able to continue to play the game they loved. It was a phenomenal time, not because of the success but because of the memory of the kids. That group stuck with us as coaches, and for them to stay together as a senior class, to walk off the field as national champions, as time goes on, I hope that group of kids remembers more than anything how they committed to something. Whatever they do in life, be it spiritually, professionally, in marriage, or as a parent, when we commit ourselves to doing something and being willing to work hard to be great at it, a lot of things that we might believe can’t happen will end up happening to them.”

Prior to 1998, which also happened to be the year Azusa Pacific University introduced a brand-new athletics logo and changed its official school colors from orange and black to brick red and black, Cougar teams had won only one NAIA championship in a sport other than men’s track and field (which was responsible for 12 of the university’s first 13 NAIA titles at that time). Coupled with an undefeated championship women’s soccer season that same year (1998), Azusa Pacific won 24 more NAIA national championships in seven new sports over a 14-year stretch from 1998 to 2012, which is when the university ended its NAIA affiliation in its transition to NCAA Division II membership.

“We had thought women’s soccer would be pretty good that year, maybe not undefeated national champions, but we definitely had an idea they would be good; but football was completely out of left field,” Pine said. “That 10-game winning streak is one of the most impressive runs, because after the loss that dropped them to 2-2, there wasn’t anybody thinking that in 11 weeks they’d be hoisting the national championship trophy, but that’s exactly what they did.”

“Azusa Pacific had some unbelievably dominant track and field championship teams, and Azusa Pacific track and field is the greatest program in NAIA history. What women’s soccer did just weeks before in going undefeated was something to be extremely proud of. But football is very much woven into the American culture, and whether it’s fair or not, Americans tend to evaluate schools based on the accomplishments of their football programs. Not only had we gained respect in the eyes of those on the outside in college athletics, but that championship threw the switch of really changing our own view of ourselves. That victory, in which we could say we were football champions, I think really impacted the whole university quite a bit in terms of our self-esteem and how we viewed ourselves. People were very proud of it because it represented a lot of who we were: we weren’t perfect, we didn’t go 14-0 and blow people out, but we were people of character who never gave up and were always going to dig in and fight. That team embodied that character and brought home the hardware for all that hard work, and it gave us a healthy dose of pride that we belonged at that level and didn’t have to apologize for it.”

The 1998 football team represented much more than 14 Saturdays in the fall of 1998. Every week was its own story, collectively weaving itself into a legendary tale of a truly unforgettable team.

“That was a year we saw some of the most dynamic spiritual transformation of many of the kids within the program, and one of the most memorable things that I will always carry with me was when we brought (pastor) Raleigh Washington to our fall camp to do a Scripture retreat with our team one afternoon,” Shealy remembered. “We had at least 12 guys make faith decisions, where a large number of the kids committed to refining their faith and rededicated themselves spiritually. Something like that really brings a football team together; when there’s a common mindset centered on Christ, you’re going to have a team that’s special.”

1998 Azusa Pacific Football Game By Game Results

Sept. 5, 1998: Azusa Pacific 14, San Diego 7
Sept. 12, 1998: Azusa Pacific 31, Olivet Nazarene 24
Sept. 19, 1998: Central Washington 51, Azusa Pacific 17
Sept. 26, 1998: Hardin-Simmons 30, Azusa Pacific 17
Oct. 3, 1998: Azusa Pacific 26, Chapman 21
Oct. 17, 1998: Azusa Pacific 42, La Verne 22
Oct. 24, 1998: Azusa Pacific 20, Humboldt State 13
Oct. 31, 1998: Azusa Pacific 27, Whittier 9
Nov. 7, 1998: Azusa Pacific 49, Occidental 7
Nov. 14, 1998: Azusa Pacific 14, Pomona-Pitzer 0
NAIA Playoffs
Nov. 21, 1998 (first round): Azusa Pacific 31, Taylor 28
Nov. 28, 1998 (quarterfinals): Azusa Pacific 35, Central Washington 28
Dec. 5, 1998 (semifinals): Azusa Pacific 26, Huron 24
Dec. 19, 1998 (championship): Azusa Pacific 17, Olivet Nazarene 14