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A Check that Pays Off

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October 1, 2005
Gary Pine
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AZUSA, Calif. – A cast of usual characters teamed with some unlikely heroes to answer a fourth-quarter challenge and lead the NAIA’s No. 16-ranked Azusa Pacific to its third straight victory, a 27-17 decision over Southern Oregon at Cougar Stadium Saturday evening.

The Cougars overcame a second-half SOU surge and scored the game’s final 10 points to beat its NAIA rival for the third consecutive year.

Junior RB Marcus Lampkin rushed for over 100 yards for the third straight game and scored 1 touchdown while senior PK Mike Betancourth booted a game-opening 27-yard field goal and a game-closing 35-yard trey. In between, a surprise set of Cougars carried Azusa Pacific, even through adverse times.

Junior QB Rudy Carlton came off the bench to put together his finest game as a Cougar, completing 16-of-24 passes for 158 yards and 2 TDs, numbers that are all career-highs. Sophomore RB James Keeler scored his first TD in 2 years, a game-winning 8-yard catch, and junior WR Micah Staley enjoyed the best game of his 2-year Cougar career, registering a team-high 5 catches for 88 yards, 60 of which came off a pair nifty over-the-shoulder grabs. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman RB David Kim rushed for 24 yards on 6 carries, all in the second half, producing 2 key first downs in the process.

With the game tied 17-17 early in the fourth quarter, Azusa Pacific committed 3 consecutive penalties to put itself in a first-and-29 situation. It was gut-check time for an offense that has hiccupped more than once through the 2005 season. And the situation got worse before it got better when SOU’s Fili La’ulu apparently ended the drive with an interception. However, La’ulu was flagged for holding Cougar TE Ricky Burgan, and the Cougars kept the ball with a new first-and-10. From there Lampkin rushed for 22 more yards on 4 carries, and on second-and-goal at the 8-yard line, Carlton play-action-faked and toss a short pass to Keeler who barrowed into the end zone for the game-winning TD, capping a 69-yard drive that chewed up 6 minutes and 22 seconds of the clock.

The rest was academic. The Cougar defense got its feet back underneath itself, and yielded just 9 yards over the next 6 Raider plays, allowing Azusa Pacific to thwart another possible SOU comeback.

“I praised the guys for getting it done,” said Cougar coach Peter Shinnick, who with the victory picked up his 50th coaching win in 70 games at Azusa Pacific. “They overcame adversity on that drive, and it changed the game.”

In a pre-game decision, Shinnick opted to rotate Carlton with 3-year starting QB Sean Davis through the first 4 series of the game. By the fifth series, Carlton won the nod for the rest of the night, completing 11 of his first 13 passes in what amounted to the first key playing time of his injury-plagued career. In his initial series, Carlton motored the Cougars 52 yards on 5 plays, capping it with a 12-yard swing pass to Alex Peltier that put Azusa Pacific up 10-3 at the time.

“Rudy is a confident kid,” said Burgan, who finished with 4 catches for 38 yards, including a key 7-yard grab that kept the Cougars’ game-winning drive alive with a first-down. “He is not afraid to fire the ball. He has just been waiting for his chance and injuries and slowed him down.”

Azusa Pacific assumed a 17-3 halftime lead after Lampkin completed a 61-yard, 14-play Cougar drive with a 4-yard TD run with 1:31 left in the half. Lampkin rushed for 23 of his team-high 110 yards on 6 carries during the drive.

In the second-half, though, Southern Oregon, which managed just 94 total yards through the first 2 quarters of play, figured out the Cougar defense, and behind the running of Jacobe Krisman, the Raiders began to march on Azusa Pacific, first going 59 yards on its first 12 plays of the third quarter to score its first TD of the game on a 10-yard slant pass from Dan Downey to Gabe Hatchett.

Senior Coba Canales returned the ensuing kickoff 43 yards to midfield and 4 plays later the Cougars were inside the Raider 30-yard line, dealing with a third-and-one situation. However, Carlton fumbled the snap exchange and Raider lineman Willis Cooley fell on the gift.

Still with its foot heavy on the pedal, Southern Oregon cruised back down field, going 71 yards on 12 plays again, and this time, on the first play of the fourth quarter, the freshman Downey found TE Jared Leeper alone in the end zone for a game-tying 2-yard TD toss.

Azusa Pacific regrouped and answered with the game-winning 15-play drive.

“It was a real gut-check for us,” said Burgan. “We, the offense, had a chance to win the game. So often we’ve relied on the defense to bail us out. But the offense was solid tonight.”

The Cougars ran a season-high 68 plays which translated into another season-best 357 yards of total offense.

The victory pushes Azusa Pacific to 3-2 on the season while Southern Oregon falls to 0-4.