ORANGE, Calif. – The month of October was one long hiccup for Azusa Pacific. In light of bye weeks, cancelled games and lengthy road trips, establishing any sort of rhythm to their football life was impossible for the Cougars. And though they entered tonight’s game with Chapman University with a healthy level of angst, they nonetheless welcomed the Panthers with open arms … and then proceeded to slap them around into a 48-7 beating.
In its most efficient and dominating performance of the season, the NAIA’s No. 15-ranked Azusa Pacific manhandled Chapman on both sides of the line to produce the most lopsided Cougar victory since a similar 49-7 thumping of Occidental during the 1998 NAIA championship season. The Cougars needed just 9 minutes and 35 seconds of play to plant 35 points on Chapman’s defense, and then smothered Chapman’s option offense, which entered the game averaging over 40 points and 400 yards during the past 4 contests.
Senior noseguard Joey Mastrosimone led a Cougar defense that stifled Chapman’s vaunted option attack, limiting the Panthers to just 178 yards total offense. Panther running back John Sanders, who entered the game averaging over 120 yards rushing, managed just 37 yards on 11 carries. And Chapman QB Patrick Josten, who weaved through the Cougar defense to a 27-25 victory a year ago, mustered just 31 yards of total offense on 18 plays, including 3 sacks. One of those behind-the-line takedowns came late in the first quarter when Cougar linebacker Steve Holte buried Josten on a blitz up the middle that jarred the ball loose. Mastrosimone, the shortest Cougar on the 100-player roster, scooped the football, and chugged 15 yards for his first-ever touchdown and a 14-0 Cougar lead.
“I’ve been waiting my whole career for that,” said Mastrosimone. “I saw it, called people off, picked it up and thought ‘don’t drop it.’ As a defense, we play as a unit, not as individuals, and we have a passion to get to the ball.”
Azusa Pacific was seemingly getting to the ball all night, producing a season-high 4 takeaways. Along with Mastrosimone’s recovery there was a Louis Jamison interception, a Joey Prestella interception (his first ever) and a Jordan Bodell fumble recovery. The Cougars turned both picks into touchdowns, and the Bodell recovery stopped a Panther drive at the Azusa Pacific 15-yard line.
“I thought it would take us a little time to get going just because we haven’t played an option team like Chapman,” said Azusa Pacific coach Peter Shinnick, “and the speed of the option game is so hard to prepare for. We were off maybe the first 5 or 6 plays, but after that our defense was unbelievable. Chapman didn’t go far tonight.”
The rest of the game produced typical Azusa Pacific stuff. Running back Ben Buys scored a lot of touchdowns. Quarterback Luke Winslow threw a touchdown bomb to Nate Farris, and the Cougar offensive line continually pushed the opposing defense onto it heels. Same old formula, same old result.
Azusa Pacific scored on its first 4 possessions of the game and, combined with the Mastrosimone fumble return, scooted out to a 35-7 lead with 2 minutes left in the first half. Winslow found wide out Ryan Allen on 2 touchdown passes, including a 20-yarder in the corner of the end zone to cap a 12-play, 93-yard game-opening drive that put the Cougars up 7-0. Buys accounted for the other 2 first half TDs with runs of 3 and 2 yards.
“We were due as an offense,” said Winslow, who completed 16-of-23 passes for 253 yards and in the process pushed his school career-record to 6,230 passing yards. “We always knew we could play like that, but for some reason or another we hadn’t put it together quite like this.
Winslow completed the evening’s scoring with a 40-yard scoring strike to Farris midway through the third quarter. It was the fifth time this season that Winslow and Farris hooked up for a TD strike of at least 40 yards in length. Farris is now averaging 24.7 yards a grab and leads all Cougar receivers with 6 touchdown receptions. Winslow’s favorite target on the evening was Allen, who had a career-high 9 catches for 106 yards.
Meanwhile, the Cougar ground game mowed through the Chapman defense, averaging 7.2 yards a carry. The freshman Buys posted the second 100-yard rushing game of his young collegiate career, tallying 130 yards on 17 carries (7.6 avg.) and 3 TDs to push his team-leading TDs scored to 16, third most in Cougar football history, trailing only former All-Americans Christian Okoye (21 in 1986) and Jack Williams (19 in 1999). Senior Elisha Hall collected 76 yards on just 7 carries (10.9 avg.). Thanks to an offensive line that did not allow a quarterback sack for the second straight game, Cougar running backs were caught behind the line of scrimmage just twice on 36 plays.
In all, the Cougars amassed a season-high 541 yards in total offense. The rest was up the Cougar defense, which shined against a Chapman offense like no one else this year.
“When the defense is creating turnovers, scoring points, and stuffing the opponent on three-and-out situations and giving us great field position, it helps out our offense so much,” said Winslow. “I’m so proud of our defense. I’ve waited 4 years for a defense like we have this year. We’ve had great offenses in the past, but the combination of our offense and defense is going to take us pretty far this year.”
Indeed, the Cougar offense consistently found itself in favorable field position throughout the night. Of its 7 scoring drives, Azusa Pacific needed 5 or fewer plays to reach paydirt on 4 of the possessions. The Cougar didn’t have to punt the ball until its first possession of the third quarter, and that was only because 3 penalties cost the Cougars 30 yards and stalled the drive. In fact, if there was a fault to an otherwise flawless performance, it was that Azusa Pacific was whistled 13 times for a hefty 156 yards (Chapman was penalized just twice for 7 yards).
With the verdict well in hand, Shinnick cleared the bench midway through the third quarter. As a result, freshman QB Sean Davis completed his first-ever collegiate pass, a 10-yarder to TE Ricky Burgan on the first attempt, and finished the game 3-for-4 passing for 29 yards. Fellow freshman WR Matt Davenport snagged his first-ever receptions, a 14-yarder from Davis.
With the victory, Azusa Pacific improves to 7-1 on the season while Chapman falls to 4-4.