It was hard to swallow in 1985, and it didn’t get any easier 17 years later.
Despite winning 9 of 10 games, including its final 3 in a row on the field, Azusa Pacific was bumped out of the NAIA Football Playoff Series and the 16-team field that was announced by the NAIA national office today.
The Cougars entered the final week of regular-season play ranked No. 14 and assumed they secured a playoff berth after last night’s 20-14 victory over Gustavus Adolphus. However the 17-member NAIA Coaches Rating Committee viewed yesterday’s upsets of No. 18 Montana Western’s over No. 5 Carroll, and No. 15 St. Ambrose’s over previously undefeated and No. 3-ranked McKendree of such significance that both Montana Western and St. Ambrose leapfrogged Azusa Pacific in today’s final poll. Despite the victory over Gustavus Adolphus, Azusa Pacific fell from No. 14 to 16 and was bumped from the final playoff spot by No. 18 Kansas Wesleyan, champion of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (conference champions ranked in the Top 20 of the final poll are awarded automatic berths. Azusa Pacific is an independent and was seeking an at-large berth into the playoffs).
Azusa Pacific endured a similar fate in 1985 when it was gunning for its first-ever NAIA playoff appearance. The Cougars entered their final regular season game with a 7-0-1 record and ranked No. 3 in the nation. However, Cal Lutheran turned a Cougar fumble into a touchdown in the final minute of play to knock off the Cougars 27-24, and the following day Azusa Pacific tumbled from No. 3 to No. 9 in the final poll (at that time only the Top 8-ranked teams made the playoff field).
Azusa Pacific, which won the 1998 NAIA championship and advanced to the Final Four in 1999, was seeking its fourth NAIA playoff bid in the past 5 years. However, the Cougars’ season has abruptly come to an end with a 9-1 record, percentage-wise the best in school history. Azusa Pacific’s lone loss came at No. 9-ranked Southern Oregon, which kicked a field goal in the final minute of play to win the game, 17-14.