THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Nate Farris ran for 1 TD, caught another and Frankie Tapia had 2 TD receptions to spearhead the NAIA's No. 22-ranked Azusa Pacific to a 43-10 victory at Cal Lutheran. Yet it was an opportunistic and clutch defense that led the Cougars to the majority of their scores and eventually to Azusa Pacific's most lopsided win ever over the Kingsmen.
Of Cal Lutheran's 15 possessions for the game, the Cougar defense ended 2 with fumbles, 2 more with interceptions, 2 early on in the game with punts and an amazing 5 with fourth-down stops, including one with less than 2 minutes left in the first half when Anthony Diggs sacked Cal Lutheran QB Casey Preston on a fourth-and-4 play and the Cougar 24-yard line.
"Cal Lutheran scored 86 points on us the last 2 years, so for us to hold them to 10 is great," said Azusa Pacific coach Peter Shinnick. "This is a Cal Lutheran offense that could average 450 yards of offense each game, so I'm very proud of our defense. We really limited them in their red zone."
Indeed, the Cougars' defense bent but refused to break on several occasions. Cal Lutheran had 4 drives start in Cougar territory and yet managed just 3 points from those field position advantages. Four other times Cal Lutheran moved the ball inside the Cougar 30-yard line and yet failed to score. Midway through the third quarter with the Cougars leading 27-3, Azusa Pacific came up with a critical stop on fourth-and-inches at the the Cougar 29-yard line, stuffing Kingsmen RB Tyler Ruiz on a rush up the middle.
"Our defense knew when to turn up the juice on Cal Lutheran," said LB Steve Holte, who recovered a Kingsmen fumble at the Cougar 28-yard line early in the second quarter. "They had a few big plays but when they came down into the red zone we knew how to shut them down. A big key for us was stopping their 3-step passing game by batting down balls."
Azusa Pacific defenders knocked down 12 Cal Lutheran pass attempts, including 7 at the line of scrimmage.
Led by the defense, the Cougar offense found itself in favorable field position throughout the game. In fact, Azusa Pacific had only 3 drives of 40 yards or more in length. One of them was the game's opening drive when the Cougars marched 71 yards on 7 plays, highlighted by Farris' 13-yard end around for the game's first score. The Cougars pushed the advantage to 14-0 on their third possession of the game when QB Luke Winslow hit Tapia on a fourth-down catch-and-run that went 34 yards to paydirt.
Following a Cal Lutheran 23-yard field goal to make it 14-3, Azusa Pacific answered with a perfect scoring strike. Winslow hit Farris in stride down the right sideline for a 53-yard TD pass after Farris had spun his defender into the ground with an outstanding move.
"We've never ran that play before," said Farris of his TD bomb. "We brought it out this week. Luke (Winslow) said in the huddle that we were taking it to the house on this play and it could not have been a better throw. It was amazing."
For the junior Farris, it was his 14th catch and fifth TD of the season, a marked improvement over last year's 1 catch and zero TDs.
"I'm very surprised," said Farris on his 4-game contribution this season. "Coming into the season, I thought I'd be pressing for a little playing time, but I never dreamed I have this kind of role."
Like no previous Cougar foe this season, Cal Lutheran stuffed Azusa Pacific's ground game, which came into the game averaging over 220 yards a contest. The Kingsmen held Azusa Pacific to a mere 87 yards on 30 carries (2.9 avg.). Winslow picked up the slack by completing 14-of-26 passes for 277 yards and 3 TDs. The defense did the rest.
With just over 7 minutes left in the game, junior cornerback Barrit Todd picked off Preston and returned it 75 yards for the final TD of the game. On the Kingsmen's ensuring drive, defensive end Laron Gordon deflected and intercepted a Preston pass at the line of scrimmage, returning it 17 yards to the Cal Lutheran 28-yard line to set up Matt Ryburn's first field goal of the season, a 20-yarder with 2:11 remaining.
With the victory Azusa Pacific improves to 4-0 for the first time since the days of Christian Okoye in 1985 and for only the fourth time in program history. Cal Lutheran, which is held to just 1 TD in a game for the first time in its past 19 games, falls to 0-2 on the season.
Azusa Pacific takes next week off and returns to the gridiron Oct. 12, when it hosts Humboldt State for the first home game since Sept. 7.