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Victory by a Foot

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September 24, 2005
Gary Pine
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ARCATA, Calif. – From the opening kick to the final kick, this game had everything, even a surprise result, and for only the second time in program history Azusa Pacific is making the long bus ride home from Arcata, Calif., with a smile as the NAIA’s No. 18-ranked Cougars held on for a 13-12 victory over Humboldt State.

“Holy cow, what a game,” said a much-relieved Azusa Pacific head coach Peter Shinnick. “The ride home is going to feel good. The food is going to taste better, the movie is going to be funnier and the seat is softer and bigger.”

Azusa Pacific’s special teams took center stage while Humboldt State’s crew sheepishly looked for any exit available. Cougar junior Jeremy Lugbill returned the opening kickoff 94 yards to the Humboldt State 1-yard line and from there Alex Peltier punched the ball into the end zone to give Azusa Pacific a quick 7-0 lead on its way toward an eventual 13-0 margin. However, Humboldt State rallied, scoring 2 touchdowns, but Jack place-kickers Ben Peterson and Gian Martinelli each missed their respective PATs, allowing the Cougars to cling to a 1-point lead. Humboldt State had one last chance to win the game, but Peterson narrowly missed a 40-yard field goal as time expired.

Sandwiched in between, Cougars Coba Canales returned a punt 22 yards and Mike Perez blocked a Humboldt punt, both of which set up Mike Betancourth field goals of 36 and 43 yards.

“Our special forces were outstanding,” added Shinnick. “They were big time and really were the difference in the game.”

The Cougars accumulated just 232 yards of total offense, but junior RB Marcus Lampkin, the emerging star of the offense, accounted for 159 of it, notching his second straight 100-yard rushing game with 112 yards on 23 carries. He also had a team-high 5 receptions for 47 yards.

“We knew their defense was good,” said Shinnick, “but we pounded the ball and ran effectively.”

Indeed they did. Azusa Pacific’s first 6 drives all advanced into Humboldt State territory. The Cougars led 13-0 after 4 possessions, and only a Lumberjack interception at the goal line kept Azusa Pacific from assuming a 20-0 advantage.

The Cougar defense was up to the task of slowing an HSU offense that came in averaging 37 points and 338 yards a game. Led by freshman LB Travis Bengard and his team-high 11 tackles, Azusa Pacific stopped the Lumberjack ground game in its track, yielding just 46 yards on 32 carries, thanks in part to a season-high 4 quarterback sacks. Azusa Pacific also came up with big defensive plays. All-American LB Stephen Holte registered his team-leading third interception of the season, picking off a Lumberjack pass at the Cougar 17-yard line to end a Humboldt threat. Then in the closing seconds, sophomore LB Clint Shamblin deflected what would have been a sure Lumberjack pass completion which in turn forced Peterson to attempt the longer field goal on the game’s final play.

“Holte’s interception was a saver,” said Shinnick, “and Shamblin’s play proved to be extremely key because their guy just barely missed that last field goal.”

Shinnick, who was a Humboldt State assistant coach before taking over the Azusa Pacific reins in 1999, registered his first win as the Cougar mentor at Humboldt State, and Azusa Pacific wins for the first time in the Redwood Bowl since 1997. With the victory Azusa Pacific improves to 2-2 on the season while Humboldt State suffers its first setback and falls to 3-1.

“I’m proud of our seniors,” said Shinnick. “We started this week by challenging them that they could be the first senior class in my tenure to win at Humboldt State, and they met the challenge head on. And they’ve led our team back from an 0-2 start. We could have rolled over, but we’ve displayed some character and fortitude to come back. Hopefully, we’ve kick started this thing and got it going.”