ARCATA, Calif. -- Junior running back Terrell Watson continued his assault on the Azusa Pacific football record books, rushing for 279 yards on a career-high 37 carries, and his seven-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter sealed the Cougars’ 21-13 road win that clinched a season sweep of Humboldt State, which remained winless through seven games overall and six games of Great Northwest Athletic Conference play.
The victory kept the Cougars tied at the top of the GNAC standings for the sixth consecutive week at 5-2 overall and 5-1 in the GNAC, with a huge road test looming at conference co-leader Central Washington next Saturday. The winner of that game will control its destiny for the GNAC crown heading into the final three weeks of the regular season.
“A win like this shows you how great this league is and how valuable each victory is,” Azusa Pacific head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “We knew coming into this game they were going to be as creative possible to find a way to be competitive. We’d love to be able to score earlier, but this game was another example of how the GNAC is such a tough league.”
Watson, who last week shattered Christian Okoye’s single-game rushing record with a 302-yard, five-TD performance, surpassed the previous record for the second straight week, rushing for 199 of his 279 yards in the second half of a game that went into halftime tied at 7-7. With the performance, which included 118 yards on 12 fourth-quarter carries, Watson moved up to second on the program’s career rushing list with 3,008 yards, joining Okoye as the only other Cougar to rush for over 3,000 yards.
With 581 combined rushing yards over the past two weeks, Watson now owns the fifth-best single-season rushing total through just seven games in 2013, and he now sits 463 yards away from Okoye’s single-season record 1,680 yards.
“You got a chance to see what Humboldt State wanted to do defensively against him – they wanted to put a lot of hats in the box,” Santa Cruz said. “It was a great job by the line to create some holes for Terrell, and he also earned some hard yards in there. He’s very special in how he can run the ball, and what he ends up doing is wearing people down. He just gets stronger as the game goes.”
Meanwhile, the Azusa Pacific defense extended its run of solid play against Humboldt State, holding the Lumberjacks to just one touchdown and a pair of field goals. The Cougars had nearly gone eight consecutive quarters against Humboldt State without allowing a touchdown until Kyle Morris connected with Aaron Dhuyvetter for a nine-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-7 with just 21 seconds left in the second quarter.
That was HSU’s lone touchdown in the last 10 quarters of action between the teams, and it answered Dasmen Stewart’s 12-yard scoring strike to Preston Van Hofwegen that broke the scoreless tie with 2:22 left in the opening half. A 49-yard pass play from Morris to Kelechi Nwadibia on Humboldt State’s opening second-half drive set up Matt Bruder’s 21-yard field goal that put the Lumberjacks in front, 10-7, with 10:47 to play in the third quarter, although it was a defensive stand inside Azusa Pacific’s own 10-yard line that limited the Jacks to just three points.
After trading punts with Humboldt State, the Cougars answered with a nine-play, 61-yard touchdown drive, with Watson carrying the ball seven times on the drive before Stewart connected with senior tight end Kevin Schick from six yards out to put Azusa Pacific back in front, 14-10, with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
Bruder hit another field goal on the ensuing drive, cutting the lead to 14-13 with a 48-yarder, but Watson carried another seven times on a 10-play, 67-yard scoring drive which he capped with a seven-yard scoring run for a 21-13 lead with 8:47 left in the game.
Each of the last two Humboldt State drives featured sacks, with Matt Moody’s sack on second-and-nine leading to a third-down incompletion and a punt, while Ethan Danielson turned out the lights on the Humboldt State offense with a seven-yard sack of Morris on fourth-and-four in Azusa Pacific territory with less than three minutes remaining. With just one timeout, Humboldt State could only stop the clock one time after Watson picked up the game-clinching first down that allowed the Cougars to run out the clock for the win.
“Our pass coverage did a great job against a lot of empty formation that we hadn’t seen a lot from Humboldt State this year,” Santa Cruz said. “What I loved is how our defense closed the game out and started getting pressure to the quarterback, and we were able to find a way to make those tackles in space.”
Junior safety Tyler Thornton registered a team-high 13 tackles for the Cougar defense, which also got double-digit tackles from senior linebacker Marcus Mendillo, who tallied 10 stops including a tackle for loss. Junior free safety Mark Neely had the game’s only turnover, a second-quarter interception that extended Azusa Pacific’s streak to 11 consecutive GNAC games without losing the turnover battle.
With Watson running so effectively, gaining 7.5 yards per carry, Stewart was able to add an efficient six-of-nine passing performance for 70 yards and two scores while the senior QB rushed another nine times for 59 yards. With a seven-carry, 19-yard contribution from junior running back Ronald Douglas, Azusa Pacific rushed for 357 total yards, its second consecutive 300-yard game this year and its 13th 300-yard rushing performance since 2010.
Azusa Pacific visits Central Washington for a 1 p.m. matchup next week in Ellensburg, Wash.