GLENDORA, Calif. -- Terrell Watson picked the perfect time for a record-setting performance, leading Azusa Pacific to a furious fourth-quarter comeback in a 44-36 Homecoming win over Simon Fraser.
Watson, who entered the game fourth at Azusa Pacific in career touchdowns, rushed for a program-record 302 yards and five TDs (tying another single-game best to go with the career touchdown record), to lead the Cougars back from a 23-3 halftime deficit with the highest-scoring second half in program history. With a 68-yard touchdown run that gave Azusa Pacific the lead for good at 37-36 with 5:10 left in the game, Watson shattered the single-game rushing record held by legendary Cougar running back Christian Okoye, who partook in Homecoming festivities by watching Watson’s performance from the sidelines.
“Tonight showed a lot about who Terrell is as a person, because he will do whatever it takes to make this team win,” head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “At halftime, we talked a lot about sacrifice, and he took it to heart and gave everything he had for his team. What really came through tonight was the heart.”
The 302-yard effort from Watson was the second-best in Great Northwest Athletic Conference history, and it took him just 28 carries compared to the record-holder Nat Conley from Central Washington, who took 40 carries to generate 322 rushing yards in setting the record back in 2001. Watson tied the GNAC record for single-game rushing TDs with five, and he established another conference-best for the highest single-game rushing average (10.8 yards per carry) for a rusher with at least 20 carries in a game.
“My role was very small because the linemen did such a great job,” Watson said. “They were the ones springing me on those big runs and allowing me to score. My job is really easy compared to theirs, so I was just thankful for them.”
The 68-yarder was his fourth touchdown of the game, and he punched in another from eight yards out with 2:20 to play, extending the lead to 44-36. Watson rushed for 232 of his 302 yards and four of his five TDs in the fourth quarter alone, and he also registered a quick ascent up the career touchdown chart by passing Okoye, John van den Raadt, and Ben Buys all in the same night to become the Cougars’ career touchdown record holder. All three of the former players he passed were in attendance for Watson’s performance.
Simon Fraser dominated the first half, limiting the Cougars to just 57 yards total offense on 28 plays from scrimmage. Chris Tolbert led the way, rushing for 106 yards and three TDs in the first half alone. His three-yard scoring run with 49 seconds left in the first quarter capped an 88-yard scoring drive that gave the Clan a 10-3 lead, and he ran for two more scores in the second quarter that propelled SFU to a 20-point halftime lead, 23-3.
Watson scored his first touchdown from a yard out, punching the ball across the goal line with 11:51 remaining in the third quarter, and he scored a two-yard touchdown just over a minute into the fourth quarter to cut the Clan lead to 23-20. Just two plays after the defense forced a three-and-out from the Simon Fraser offense, Watson found a soft spot in the Clan defense and rumbled 70 yards for his third touchdown, which pushed the Cougars in front at 27-23 with 11:20 to play.
That third touchdown put him into second place in career touchdowns, surpassing van den Raadt, a former dual-threat QB who graduated in 2011 but was also attending Saturday’s game in person. Simon Fraser rallied for a quick score with an eight-play, 67-yard touchdown drive, regaining the lead at 30-27 before sophomore kicker Jamie Cacciatore drilled a 45-yard field goal that tied the game at 30-30 with 6:09 remaining.
Simon Fraser quarterback Ryan Stanford connected with WR Robert Borcky on a 51-yard TD hookup, although the point after try was pushed wide right to leave the score at 36-30 with 5:24 to play. Watson answered on the first play from scrimmage, dashing 68 yards to paydirt and into Cougar lore with his 38th career TD (37th rushing) while giving his team a 37-36 edge. After Simon Fraser’s ensuing drive stalled with a turnover on downs at the Cougar 31-yard line, Watson scampered 61 yards for a first down in the red zone before he punched it into the end zone from eight yards out one last time for his record-tying fifth rushing TD of the night. That put him beyond his running backs coach Ben Buys, for the all-time record in career TDs (39) scored as well as the career record for rushing TDs (38).
“I’m so thankful for the men that played a role in this from my linemen to the coaching staff, and it feels good to break a record held by my position coach (Buys),” Watson said.
With the win, Azusa Pacific keeps up with Central Washington for a share of the GNAC lead, improving to 4-1 in conference play and 4-2 overall. The Cougars are back in action next week, visiting Humboldt State on Saturday, Oct. 19, to kick off the second half of the GNAC slate.