ROME, Ga. -- Azusa Pacific put the finishing touches on a special season by posting a 67-0 victory over Greenville (Ill.) College in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Victory Bowl Saturday in Rome (Ga.), notching the third 10-win season in program history while nearly setting the school’s single-game scoring record in a postseason bowl game matching the Cougars up against a nine-win NCAA Division III program.
“It’s outstanding to cap this whole season with a near-perfect game against a defending bowl champion,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Victor Santa Cruz, the 2013 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Coach of the Year. “Being able to play the kind of football we did with defense and special teams was a huge advantage for our offense. We came together in all three phases today.”
Junior tailback Terrell Watson, who this year set Azusa Pacific’s single-game and single-season records for rushing yards and rushing TDs, along with conference marks for single-season rushing and TDs, rushed for a game-high 110 yards and three touchdowns to add two more records to his lengthy list of 2013 accomplishments as he broke Christian Okoye’s records for single-season rushing TDs and career rushing yards.
Watson gained 93 of his 110 yards on nine first-half touches, scoring from one yard out on the Cougars’ opening possession before adding a 37-yard touchdown dash late in the first quarter and an eight-yard second-quarter score that pushed Watson past Okoye’s career yardage record. The 100-yard game was Watson’s 10th of the season, and he finished the campaign with 1,812 yards and 23 rushing TDs to push his program-record career totals to 3,603 yards and 49 TDs.
“Going into the season, we knew we had a young man who was a real weapon; what we didn’t know is that he would mature this quickly and develop into the dominant back he is today,” Santa Cruz said. “Not only that, he’s a humble young man who didn’t set out to break those records this year, but what showed through this year was his skill set and his determination to be the best he possibly can for his team.”
The Cougar defense gave up zero net yards in the opening quarter, forcing four consecutive three-and-out series. Greenville’s triple-option offense wasn’t able to get a first down until the Panthers’ opening drive of the second quarter. The shutout performance was the Cougars’ first defensive shutout since blanking Northwestern Oklahoma State in the 2004 NAIA playoffs by a 16-0 tally.
Meanwhile, the average starting field position for Azusa Pacific was the Greenville 33-yard line, giving Watson and the Cougar offense a short field for six first-half touchdowns on just 188 yards of total offense in the first two quarters. Sophomore kicker Jamie Cacciatore added a 42-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to give the Cougars a 44-0 halftime lead.
Senior quarterback Dasmen Stewart completed 11-of-13 passes for 129 yards and three TDs, and he completed eight consecutive throws to wrap up his afternoon after hitting sophomore wide receiver Tanner Henry for a five-yard touchdown on the opening second-half possession to push the Cougars’ lead to 51-0.
Watson’s first score capped a five-play, 37-yard drive, in which he carried five straight times for all of the yardage on the drive. Following another three-and-out that gave the Cougars the ball at the Greenville 30-yard line, Greenville seemingly halted the drive when they dropped Watson for a four-yard loss on third-and-goal from the four-yard line. However, senior quarterback Justin McPherson kept it himself on a field-goal fake for the eight-yard keeper that extended the lead to 14-0.
On the second play of the ensuing drive, Watson used a quick hesitation move behind the line of scrimmage before bursting through the left side to rumble 37 yards for his second score of the game to make it 21-0 with 2:16 left in the first quarter. A 49-yard Tarik Myles punt return to the Greenville eight-yard line set up Watson’s third score, and Stewart added a nine-yard scoring pass to Henry and an 18-yard strike to junior wide receiver Ed Dillihunt to extend the lead to 41-0 before Cacciatore’s field-goal made it a 44-point halftime advantage.
In the third quarter, Stewart’s second TD toss to Henry was followed by a 25-yard Cacciatore field goal, and redshirt freshman rover Sam Flemming returned an interception near midfield for a 48-yard touchdown that extended the lead to 61-0 entering the fourth quarter. Myles had a 71-yard run before McPherson finished off the scoring by punching in a one-yard run for his second touchdown of the game.
The Cougars came up one point away from tying the program’s single-game scoring record of 68 points, set in a 2004 win over Valley City State (N.D.), although the 67-point margin of victory was a program-record.
Azusa Pacific’s defense, led by a game-high seven tackles from senior strong safety Nick Grunsky, registered three takeaways by coming up with a special teams fumble along with interceptions by Flemming and junior free safety Tyler Thornton. Thornton’s pick, his fifth of the year, came as time expired in the second quarter, but his 27-yard return coupled with a 15-yard Greenville penalty gave Azusa Pacific an untimed down from the 25-yard line, which is where Cacciatore drilled his 42-yard field goal.
Azusa Pacific concludes the season with a 10-2 overall record, while Greenville finishes 9-2.
“I believe this is a team worthy of a top-25 final ranking, and I believe that the coaches who make up the poll have a very good grasp from their vantage point,” Santa Cruz said. “That committee will put together the right 25, and for where we were entering this week, I believe we belong in that top-25 group.”
“Every season is its own life, and what we have heading into next year is a record of success in Division II. We’ve had success on the road, and we’ve shown that we can put together recruiting classes that have the chemistry and the core values to be successful. Those are the hardest things to find when you’re building a successful program.”
The Cougars open the 2014 season at home on Sept. 6 2014, against Grand Valley State, which was a first-round winner Saturday in the NCAA Division II playoffs.