AZUSA, Calif. -- As the season continues to roll on, Azusa Pacific is continuing to buy its way to victories. For the second game this year, sophomore Ben Buys ran for 4 touchdowns as the NAIA's No. 16-ranked Cougars rolled past visiting Humboldt State, 35-22, to move to 5-0 on the season.
Buys led a ground game that accounted for 148 of the Cougars' 400 yards with 84 yards on 20 carries. He sandwiched a 12-yard tally and a 7-yard scamper between a pair of 1-yard plunges that book ended the game, including one on a fourth-down run over right tackle that iced the game with 1:24 left.
"When your line turns around and says, 'just follow our butts in,' it's not that hard," said Buys of his game-clinching TD. "I took my step and followed them and didn't get touched. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to get that push to get the ball in there."
Azusa Pacific looked sharp out of the gate, going 53 yards on 9 plays, capped by Buys' 1-yard TD plunge to take a quick 7-0 lead less than 5 minutes into the game. Behind 2 more Buys scoring runs the Cougars scooted out to a 21-3 by late in the second quarter and appeared to be headed toward its third straight blowout victory. However, Humboldt State made adjustments to a Cougar defense that had limited the Lumberjacks to just 42 yards on 3 of its first 4 possessions. Behind quarterback Aaron Currell, Humboldt State scored on 3 straight possessions, the final one of the second quarter and the first 2 of the second half, pulling to within 28-22 with 7 minutes left in the third quarter.
"They started started taking every little thing that our defense allowed," said Azusa Pacific head coach Peter Shinnick. "They didn't try to go deep and just said, 'where's the open guy, let's dink and dink and dink."
At one point, Currell completed 19-of-22 passes for a 176 yards and pair of TDs. The Lumberjacks motored 69, 71 and 79 yards on their 3 scoring drives that allowed them to move to within a TD of taking the lead. It appeared Humboldt was going to get that lead as well when they went 79 yards on 4 plays, the big one being a 48-yard pass from Tim Sprinkles to Chris White to set up a first-and-goal at the Azusa Pacific 1-yard line. However, the Lumberjacks abandoned their aerial attack in favor of a ground assault and were denied on 4 straight rushes, a pair of QB sneaks and 2 Mitch Jones' runs. In fact, it was Jones who was pushed back by Cougar nose guard Joey Mastrosimone on the critical fourth-down play.
"We're not the biggest D-line," said Mastrosimone, who was making his first start of the season after starting 6 games last year. "I wasn't surprised they tried to run on us. Look at us, (defensive end) Peder (Moore) weighs 230, I'm 220 pounds, and they're all 300 pounds over there. We just believed in ourselves and made the stop."
Moore led Azusa Pacific with a career-high 11 tackles while Mastrosimone added a season-best 6 tackles.
"You've got a mentality that when you're that close, you have to believe in your O-line," commented Shinnick on Humboldt's decision to run 4 straight run plays at the 1-yard line. "The beautiful thing is that our D-line did a great job. What a huge deal, that changed the whole game."
Azusa Pacific iced the game with Buys' fourth TD, a 1-yard blast off right tackle on fourth down with 1:24 remaining in the game to cap a 12-play 69-yard drive that ate 6 minutes off the clock.
"We missed a field goal earlier in the game so that was an easy decision for us to go for the TD on that fourth down," said Shinnick. "Giving the ball to Ben Buys behind T.J. Woods and Dave Willford is a very good thing."
Buys, who now has 12 touchdowns on the season, finished with 84 yards on 20 carries. Cougar QB Luke Winslow was 19-for-33 passing for 272 yards and 1 TD, a 51-yard bomb to Nate Farris that momentarily slowed Humboldt's comeback effort to give Azusa Pacific a 28-15 lead midway through the third quarter. Senior wide out Frankie Tapia had a game-high 11 grabs that covered 136 yards, including a 45-yard catch that set up the Cougars' third TD, late in the first half.
Azusa Pacific continually shot itself in the foot with a hefty 10 penalties, including 3 that negated much-needed first downs. However, other than the blocked field goal, the special teams was able to offset the penalty-prone play, giving the Cougars quality field position throughout the night. Louis Jamison's 64-yard kickoff return following an HSU field goal, set up Buys' 12 yard TD that put the finishing touches on a short 3-play, 18-yard drive.
Humboldt State finished with 467 yards worth of total offense, thanks in part to 34-for-51 passing that produced 399 yards.
Now 5-0 for the first time since 1985, Azusa Pacific travels to Ashland, Ore., next Saturday to take on the NAIA's No. 7-ranked Southern Oregon for a 6 p.m. game. Meanwhile, Humboldt State, which visits UC Davis next weeks, falls to 1-4.