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Cougars Cruise by Whittier, 34-6

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September 21, 2002
Gary Pine
WHITTIER, Calif. -- A little bit of everybody did a lot of everything, and in this case everything was a 34-6 victory for the NAIA's No. 22-ranked Azusa Pacific over Whittier College Saturday night.

The Cougars scored early -- less than a minute into the game -- and often, 5 times in the first half alone, and in the process cruised to its most lopsided victory in 3 seasons. In the process, over 80 Cougars played in the game, including several who got their first collegiate action. More importantly, though, Azusa Pacific kept its perfect record intact, improving to 3-0 for its best start since 1985.

Azusa Pacific's dominance along the line made this easy pickings for an offense that ran roughshod and a defense that wreaked havoc all night long. In just the first half alone, running backs Elisha Hall and Ben Buys combined for 102 rushing yards on 13 carries (7.8 avg.) and scored 4 TDs. Meanwhile, senior QB Luke Winslow spearheaded an efficient aerial attack that completed 13-of-17 passes in the first half for 167 yards and another TD. The end result was a 34-0 Azusa Pacific halftime lead and a game well under control. Therefore, when the third quarter opened, Cougar coach Peter Shinnick emptied his bench, using second-, third- and fourth-unit players to finish the game.

"I'm very pleased," said Shinnick. "This game was completely different in the make-up from last week's game. Our guys didn't have a let down. They prepared themselves well and the end result was they played a great football game."

The Cougars came out with their ears pinned back. On the opening kickoff, they rocked Poet Jausten Thompson into a fumble that Cougar Anthony Diggs recovered at the 14-yard line. Three plays later, all Buys' rushes, the Cougars had a quick 7-0 lead on a Buys plunge from a yard out. After a pair punts, Azusa Pacific then scored TDs on its next 4 drives. A Nate Farris 33-yard punt return to the Poet 19-yard line set up Hall's sprint up the middle on the next play that put the Cougars up 14-0 to close the first quarter.

Azusa Pacific then fashioned its first sustained drive of the game, going 89 yards on 10 plays, capped by a Buys' 3-yard TD run to push the cushion to 21-0 at the 10:31 mark of the second quarter. The Cougars increased their lead to 28-0 when Hall highlighted a 5-play, 57-yard drive with a 1-yard TD run that was set up by his own 23-yard run on the play before.

"I don't think they were ready for our running attack," said Hall, "but then again I don't think any school is. We have so many different types of running backs. Like someone said before, we hit them with Ben Buys and then sprinkle them with Elisha Hall. We had a lot of fun tonight."

Azusa Pacific closed its portion of the scoring in the final minute of the first half when Winslow connected with Frankie Tapia on a 20-yard TD strike that put that finishing touches on a 10-play, 83-yard drive.

The rest was up to the Cougar defense which forced a trio of 3-and-out drives on Whittier and put the stop of 5 other Poet drives after just 1 first down. Azusa Pacific lost a bid for its first shutout since 1998 when the Poets scored its lone TD with 2:45 remaining in the game.

For the second straight week, redshirt freshman LB Steve Holte led the Cougars in tackles with 6, again all in the first half. Led by David Leary's 2 take-downs, Azusa Pacific sacked Whittier QB Mark Mejia 4 times to bring its season total to 13, thus needing just 3 games this season to eclipse last year's season total of 9 QB sacks. The Cougars yielded the Poets just 62 rushing yards on 31 carries.

Azusa Pacific opened the second with half with back-up QB Eric McClenahan seeing his first action of the season. Then in the fourth quarter, more than 20 Cougars collected their first-ever collegiate game experience, including redshirt sophomore QB Ryan Lundstrom and redshirt freshman RB Kris Linscott. In fact, Linscott led the team in rushing with 69 yards on 10 carries.

For the third straight week, the Cougars managed over 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing, using another balanced attack to put away Whittier. The Cougars accumulated 229 yards on the ground, averaging a hefty 6.4 yards a carry, and 212 yards through the air.

"We've tried to do everything we can in practice to put us into the situation with the type of football we played tonight and in the second half of last week against Pacific Lutheran," said Shinnick. "We played some real good football here tonight, we just have to keep taking it to another level each week."