In only his third collegiate start, Carlton, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior put together the best game by a Cougar QB in 5 years, completing 16-of-21 passes for 353 yards and 3 TDs to lead the NAIA’s No. 14-ranked Azusa Pacific to a surprisingly easy 47-6 victory over No. 23 Eastern Oregon before a crowd of 4,023 Saturday evening.
“This sounds like a cliché, but I don’t care about the numbers,” said Carlton. “Instead, we took another step this week toward being a great team.”
Eastern Oregon wouldn’t argue with Carlton’s assessment.
The Cougars were both efficient and explosive at tallying season highs in total offense (584), passing yards (418), and of course, points (47). They took their opening drive of the game and motored 90 yards on 8 plays, capped by Carlton’s 35-yard TD pass to Nathaniel Nasca for the freshman’s first-ever TD catch.
The Cougar defense, which was sterling all night, then forced the first of four 3-and-out EOU possessions, and senior Coba Canales returned the ensuing punt 55 yards for another TD and a quick 14-0 Cougar lead in less than 3 minutes of play. With the first half closing out, junior RB Marcus Lampkin scored the first of his 2 TDs on the night, completing a 10-play, 80-yard drive with a 5-yard sprint into the end zone to give Azusa Pacific a 21-0 halftime lead.
Azusa Pacific’s lightening-like attack was even more impressive in the third quarter, scoring 16 points in just over 2 minutes of play to blow the game open and assume a 37-0 lead. After EOU let a punt-snap slip through the end zone for a safety, Azusa Pacific scored on the first play after the subsequent free kick, when Carlton hit Jeremy Lugbill on a quick hit which Lugbill turned into a 71-yard sprint down the far sideline for another TD.
Eastern Oregon fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Carlton took advantage, finding Lampkin for 25-yard scoring strike.
“Rudy played to his fullest potential tonight,” said Cougar coach Peter Shinnick. “About 20 times he checked the play sent in, and each time put us in the right play.”
Carlton completed 10 of his first 12 passes and went on to throw for 353 yards, the most by a Cougar QB since the program’s all-time passer Luke Winslow threw for 380 at Cal Lutheran in 2000. In the fourth quarter Carlton gave way to Sean Davis, who completed all 6 of his passes for 65 yards. All told, the Cougar aerial game was 22-for-27 for 418 yards.
“I could not ask for more out of that position tonight,” said Shinnick.
Carlton has been patiently waiting his turn on stage. He redshirted the 2002 season and injuries then limited him to just 1 brief game appearance over the course of the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Now at full health, he moved into the starting line-up 3 games ago.
“Rudy never lost faith in himself or the system,” said Shinnick, “and right now he is playing great football.”
Carlton’s favorite target on the night was tight end Ricky Burgan, who had 6 catches for a career-high 127 yards.
And while Carlton, Lampkin, Burgan, Lugbill and gang were running wild on offense, the Cougar defense, led by All-American LB Stephen Holte was applying a choke-hold on a Mountaineer offense that came in averaging over 400 yards a game.
Eastern Oregon took the game’s opening drive and behind the running of Tyronne Gross drove through the heart of the Cougar defense to the Azusa Pacific 11-yard line. However, the Mountaineers could not convert a fourth-and-1 at the 2-yard line, and Azusa Pacific took over on downs.
“That was so reminiscent of our defense last year,” said Shinnick, “when the opponent would take the opening drive deep into our territory and our defense just stopped them cold or came up with a turnover. Our defense said ‘that’s enough’ and tonight the offense said ‘give us the ball anywhere and we’ll score.’”
Mountaineer QB Scott Jensen came in completing 61% of his passes on the season but tonight he was under gun from a hotly pursuing Cougar defense and completed just 6-of-17 passes while being sacked 5 times.
“We beat the living daylights out of him,” said Shinnick. “Our defense is just getting better and better every week.”
Holte, who is second in the NAIA with 14 tackles a game, had a game-high 14 takedowns tonight, including a sack, and a recovered fumble that led to a TD. Senior safety Troy McPeak had 7 tackles, 2 for loss including a sack, and 2 interceptions. Eastern Oregon accumulated just 250 yards of total offense, and only 1 of its 12 drives covered more than 50 yards.
The victory, which pushes the Cougar record to 5-3 on the season, keeps Azusa Pacific’s NAIA playoff hopes alive, while Eastern Oregon, which falls to 4-3, likely falls out of playoff contention.
“We’ve been playing playoff football the past 3 weeks,” said Carlton, referring to the fact that Azusa Pacific likely had to win its final 3 games of the season to qualify for the postseason.