AZUSA, Calif. – For some it was great to be home, for others it wasn’t.
The NAIA’s No. 20-ranked Azusa Pacific, playing its first game at home this season, scored the game’s first 31 points and went on to post a 31-13 victory over Willamette University of Salem, Ore. The victory snaps a 3-game losing streak for the Cougars dating back to last year and moves Azusa Pacific to 1-2 on the season.
For Willamette head coach Mark Speckman, who was returning to his alma mater Azusa Pacific in a football capacity for the first time since his 1976 senior season when he was a starting linebacker, memories of the ol’ place won’t include this game.
Azusa Pacific turned 3 Bearcat turnovers into touchdowns, including 2 in the first half, as Azusa Pacific scooted out to a 21-0 halftime lead and pushed it to 31-0 by the end of the third quarter. Twice the Bearcats got inside the Azusa Pacific 30 but they lost the ball both times, including the opening drive when Cougar lineman A.J. DeJager deflected and intercepted a Cameron Walton pass, returning it 24 yards. Nine plays later, sophomore RB Alex Peltier capped a 56-yard drive by plowing into the end zone from a yard out, and the Cougars were off and running.
Early in the second quarter Azusa Pacific motored 51 yards, again on 9 plays, capped by the first of 2 Marcus Lampkin touchdowns, another 1-yard run that put the Cougars up 14-0. On the ensuing drive, Willamette maneuvered 61 yards downfield, but on the 14th play of the drive Ryan Hernandez fumbled at the Cougar 17 and newly-placed nose guard Erik Arevalo, who a week ago was an offensive lineman, pounced on the loose ball to end another Bearcat threat. Azusa Pacific turned around and drove 70 yards highlighted by senior QB Sean Davis’ first touchdown of the season, a 17-yard strike to Micah Staley in the corner of the end zone.
“We needed this,” said Cougar coach Peter Shinnick. “I knew we weren’t as bad as our record said. We finally played good team football. The defense never gave up and gave us turnovers when we needed them.”
Late in the third quarter, Azusa Pacific parlayed another Willamette fumble, this time in Bearcat territory, into another score when 2 plays after the turnover Lampkin scampered 33 yards for his second touchdown of the game and a 28-0 Cougar lead.
“I felt I had been hurrying my plays in the previous 2 games,” said Lampkin, who finished with 100 rushing yards on 15 carries, “so I decided to let plays develop tonight. I put my hand on (offensive guard Steven) Mejia’s back and followed him until everything opened. Once I was in the clear I knew I had to put the ball in because the play before I was cramping up and I wasn’t sure I’d get another chance tonight.”
Willamette, which a year ago advanced to the NCAA Division III playoffs, scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns in the final 8 minutes, one following an Azusa Pacific fumble on a kickoff. Quentin Brock, who rushed for a game-high 117 yards on 23 carries, scored on 3- and 1-yard runs, the last coming with 5:08 left in the game.
“We made it too dramatic at the end,” said Shinnick. “We have to learn to finish. We played good football for 3 quarters. We will be a 4-quarter team, though.”
Willamette, which was making its first-ever visit in the Canyon City, accumulated 387 yards in total offense on a whopping 86 plays. Using the unique “fly” offense, the Bearcats rushed for 267 yards, the most surrendered by a Cougar defense since Willamette’s Northwest Conference rival Pacific Lutheran rushed for 304 yards in a triple OT loss to Azusa Pacific in September of 2002.
“That is one of the tougher offenses to try to stop,” said Shinnick. “You don’t know who has the ball or where it is going.”
Azusa Pacific, which is now 16-1 at home since 2002, accumulated 350 yards on 58 plays. Lampkin, who has now back-to-back 100-yard rushing games in Azusa (he had a career-high 106 vs. Sioux Falls in last year’s NAIA playoffs), tallied 129 yards of total offense. Davis finished the game 14-for-29 passing for 167 yards and 1 TD, the 22nd of his career.
The Cougars could have had another touchdown after Mike Perez picked off a Walton pass and returned 35 yards to paydirt early in the fourth quarter. However, Azusa Pacific was flagged for roughing the passer, and Willamette retained possession.
All-American LB Stephen Holte led the Cougar defense with the best game of his career, 18 tackles (6 solo), including a pair of sacks.
With the win Azusa Pacific avoids its first 0-3 start in 8 years. Meanwhile, Willamette falls to 0-3.