After 36 consecutive hours of steady rain falling on Cougar Stadium, Azusa Pacific slapped on a self-imposed grounding of its vaunted aerial attack that ranks among the NAIA’s 15 best, and went instead with a ball-control plan, relying on running backs Ben Buys and Elisha Hall to move the ball through the muck, mire and Battlin’ Bear defense. The end result was a much-needed convincing victory over Rocky Mountain.
“I waited until about 3 o’clock today to put together the final pieces of the game plan,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Peter Shinnick. “We had planned this week to throw the ball a lot more than we did tonight. Obviously we had to adjust because of the conditions.”
Cougar QB Luke Winslow, who entered the game averaging 223 passing yards a game, attempted a career-low 10 passes tonight, completing just 4. However, he was extraordinarily efficient, throwing for touchdowns on 3 of his 4 completions, including his first, a 15-yard scoring strike to Frankie Tapia, who was surprisingly uncovered at the line of scrimmage at the snap.
Winslow’s next attempt was completed as well, covering 45 yards down the middle to a wide open Nate Farris for another TD to push the Cougar lead to 13-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Azusa Pacific went into the locker room up 21-0 at the half after Hall capped a 7-play, 72-yard drive by going the final 30 yards on 2 carries, the last being a 14-yard run around left end to paydirt.
Midway through the third quarter, Winslow used another lightening strike to Farris, hitting him on a 65-yard TD bomb. For Farris, it was his team-leading eighth TD catch of the season, 6 of which have covered 40-or-more yards in length.
“You’d think teams would wise up to him,” said Winslow about Farris’ proficiency for scoring on long passes. “He’s kind of goofy looking, and I don’t think teams respect his speed, but he’s a track guy. He has really added the deep-ball aspect to our game that we were missing last year.”
Winslow finished the game 4-for-10 passing for 131 yards and 3 TDs. Farris led the Cougars with just the 2 receptions but they covered 110 yards and both went for scores. All 3 of Winslow’s TD strikes came on the first play of the drive, thus Azusa Pacific needed a mere 25 seconds of possession time to tally 3 touchdowns.
The rest of game plan was left to the Cougar running backs. Of the Cougars’ 57 plays in the game, 47 were rushes. Buys carried the bulk of the load, going 67 yards on 21 carries, including 35 on 3 carries during the Cougars’ third scoring drive.
“This was a fun time,” said mud-strewn Buys, who played his prep career at Denver (Colo.) Christian High School. “It’s good to get something different every once in awhile. It’s boring playing in warm weather all the time, and this tonight reminded me a little of home.”
Hall collected 67 rushing yards as well on 10 carries. Freshman Kris Linscott came on in reserve in the fourth quarter and picked up 32 yards on 11 carries. Azusa Pacific did not attempt a pass in the fourth quarter, opting instead for 14 running plays.
“We just plodded along and played field position football tonight,” said Shinnick. “We had a couple of big plays and otherwise just ran the ball.”
Winslow closed out the Cougars’ portion of the scoring with a 21-yard naked bootleg on fourth down, scampering into the end zone untouched to put Azusa Pacific up 34-0 with 10:15 left in the game. In all, Winslow had a hand in 4 of Azusa Pacific’s 5 scores.
Azusa Pacific lost its bid for a shutout when RMC moved the ball 60 yards on 10 plays, capped by quarterback Adam Sanchez 15-yard TD scramble with 5:08 remaining to play.
The rain, which started Friday morning, finally let up midway through the second quarter. However, it returned in the third quarter before bidding a final adieu to start the fourth quarter. The conditions were certainly the worse for an Azusa Pacific home game in over 20 years, and the played a critical role in the game.
The 2 teams, which managed just 21 first downs, combined for 9 fumbles and 17 punts. Additionally, Rocky Mountain punter Mitch Cowen misfired on 2 punts because of the wet condition, whiffing on its first attempt of the game and then receiving a short snap that he had to fall on.
Rocky Mountain, which entered the game with the NAIA’s sixth best passing game, had a difficult time overcoming the elements and as a result completed just 13-of-37 passes for a season-low 100 yards.
“This weather really threw Rocky Mountain off,” said Shinnick. “They were behind the 8-ball from the start. As a team from Montana, you schedule a game in California in November to get a nice track. They really are a very good passing team.”
With the win Azusa Pacific improves to 8-1 on the season and is now 1 victory away from clinching its fourth NAIA playoff berth in the past 5 years. The Cougars will get that shot next Saturday when they host Gustavus Adolphus College out of St. Peter, Minn., next Saturday (Nov. 16) in the regular season finale. With the loss, Rocky Mountain falls to 2-7.