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Top-ranked Cougars Countered By Graceland

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September 16, 2006
Joe Reinsch
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AZUSA, Calif. -- Despite holding unranked Graceland (Iowa) without a sniff of the goal in the first half, the NAIA’s top-ranked Azusa Pacific fell victim to a pair of counterattacks that resulted in goals for the upset- and revenge-minded Yellowjackets in a 2-1 loss Saturday afternoon at Azusa Square. Azusa Pacific defeated Graceland 2-1 in the first round of the 2005 NAIA Tournament as the Cougars advanced to last year’s NAIA title game.

"It is disappointing, but at the same time, we played pretty well this afternoon," said Cougar head coach Phil Wolf. "We did not take full advantage of our opportunities, and Graceland played the perfect game. No one has played us on the counter that much this year, and the result justified the tactic."

The Cougars held Graceland without an attempted shot in the first half, but the Yellowjackets converted on their third shot of the second half to take a 1-0 lead in the 61st minute. Azusa Pacific, which had scored 11 of its 14 goals in the second half of 4 victories to open the season, answered in the 71st minute. Junior Steve Lenhart headed a cross from senior Dustin McBride to knot the game at 1-1. Junior Sven Simon played the ball from midfield to set up McBride’s cross from the left side.

Lenhart was turned away in the 77th minute after beating the Graceland goalkeeper, when a Yellowjackets defender cleared Lenhart’s shot towards goal. Less than a minute later, Graceland played it long for another goal to regain the advantage, 2-1. The Yellowjackets packed the defense to keep the Cougars from generating any quality chances over the final 12 minutes and seal the win.

With the loss, Azusa Pacific drops to 4-1 on the season and earn a week off before meeting unranked Westminster (Utah) next Saturday, Sept. 23. The Cougars defeated 4 teams ranked in the NAIA Top 25 in a span of 9 days to open the year. Graceland, which defeated No. 13-ranked Westmont 2-0 in Santa Barbara Thursday, improves to 4-1.