Taking on only the second NCAA Division I-AA opponent in program history, Azusa Pacific surprisingly controlled play throughout much of the first half, holding Sacramento State in check while grabbing the lead on the scoreboard. The Cougars led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter and were still up 10-7 midway through the second quarter, giving hope that Azusa Pacific might do the unthinkable – beat a scholarshipped I-AA program on its own field. Even when the Hornets finally assumed their first lead of the game, Azusa Pacific was still hot on their tail, blocking a PAT and returning it the length of the field to stay close at 13-12 with 3:55 left in the first half.
However, Sacramento State used a trio of big plays and needed just 6 snaps to accumulate 113 yards and 2 TDs in less than 2 minutes to turn the scare of a Cougar upset into a comfortable 27-12 halftime lead. From there, the Hornets added a pair of second-half TDs to keep Azusa Pacific at bay and hold on for its second-straight victory.
Hornet QB Chris Hurd, a late-summer transfer from UTEP, threw for 198 yards and 3 TDs, and sophomore RB Ryan Mole rushed for a season-high 202 yards and a pair of scores to pace a Sacramento State offense that registered 474 yards worth of total offense, 422 of which were tallied over the final 3 quarters of the game.
Relying on a defense that held Sacramento State to just 3 first downs on its first 3 possessions, Azusa Pacific took advantage of some favorable field position and drove 46 yards on 10 plays and capped its second possession of the game with David Kim’s first-ever TD, a 1-yard blast that put the Cougars up 7-0 midway through the first quarter.
Azusa Pacific made that lead stand for nearly a quarter until the Hornets knotted the game at 7-7 on Mole’s 5-yard run midway through the second quarater. Coba Canales then took the ensuing kickoff 48 yards downfield to the Hornet 39 yard line. Three plays later, the Cougars were back in the lead at 10-7 when Mike Betancourth boomed a 52-yard field goal, matching the longest kick of his career and the second longest in Cougar history.
Sacramento State’s offense, which had sputtered thus far, finally got a handle on Azusa Pacific’s unconventional defense and needed just 12 plays over the final 6 minutes of the half to score 3 TDs. Mole ripped off a 72-yard run on the ensuring drive to set up Hurd’s 3-yard TD pass to Tommy Briggs for the go-ahead TD with 3:55 left in the half. However, Azusa Pacific blocked the PAT, and Canales scooped up the loose ball and traveled the length of the field for a rare 2-point PAT. Thus instead of Sacramento State taking a 14-10 lead, the Hornets instead held a narrow 13-12 margin.
Three incomplete Cougar passes put the ball back in the Hornets’ hands in rather short fashion, and 3 plays later Mole sprinted 42 yards downfield for another TD to put Sac State up 20-12 with 2:11 left in the half.
Again, Azusa Pacific couldn’t move the ball and had to punt, putting the ball back in Hornet hands with just 32 seconds left, but that was more than enough time for Hurd, who first completed a 29-yard pass and then went for the end zone for a 32-yard TD strike to Torrell Baker with 16 seconds left in the half, completing an amazing Hornet blitz that turned the game around.
Azusa Pacific had no trouble moving the ball in the second half, and on its first 3 possessions had the ball in Hornet territory. However, the Sacramento State defense rose to the occasion each time, first blocking a 40-yard Betancourth field goal attempt, then intercepting a Rudy Carlton pass, before coming up with a big sack of Carlton and forcing the Cougars to surrender the ball on downs early in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars finally completed a second-half drive when Marcus Lampkin scored a TD from 3 yards out to pull the Cougars to within 2 scores at 34-19 with just over 3 minutes to play.
Sacramento State ended all suspense of a possible Cougar comeback by recovering the ensuing onside kick and scoring 3 plays later on James Cummings’ 14-yard dash with just under 2 minutes left in the game.
Azusa Pacific managed 300 yards of total offense. Lampkin registered his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game with 110 yards on 26 carries. Carlton completed 12-of-29 passes for 151 yards. His favorite target was Micah Staley, who had a career-high 8 grabs for 115 yards.
While Sacramento State improves to 2-4 on the season, Azusa Pacific falls to 3-3 and now a sprint to the finish to hopefully secure its third straight NAIA playoff berth. However, the road there is difficult. The Cougars return home to host NCAA Division II Western New Mexico next Saturday. They take a week off before hosting nationally-ranked Eastern Oregon on Oct. 29. After another week off, the Cougars close out the regular season far from home in North Dakota to take on Valley City State, Nov. 10.