SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- A remarkable first half performance by Azusa Pacific was nearly undone by an improbable ending but, in the end, the Cougars held on and beat Point Loma Nazarene, 3-2.
The showdown between the NAIA’s No. 6-ranked Cougars and No. 15-ranked Sea Lions not only had national implications but also was a key contest in terms of position for the stretch run in conference play. Both teams began the day in a 3-way tie for first place in the GSAC with Fresno Pacific at 4-1.
Azusa Pacific got the start it was looking for in the 9th minute when Sven Simon played a ball into Brandon Stirm who promptly blasted a shot into the upper V from 12 yards out to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.
“The biggest thing for us was that we scored first,” Stirm said. “It was good to finally be up on someone early instead of us getting behind.”
In the 22nd minute, Kris Van Houten beat Sea Lion keeper Bryan Louzil for his first goal of the year setting off a Cougar celebration with 2-0 lead.
The Cougars seemed to put the game on ice when David Casarotte scored on a penalty kick to make it 3-0 in the 29th minute.
Point Loma Nazarene (10-3, 4-2)was unable to get any quality chances in the first half due to a solid defensive performance by the Cougars’ back line and keeper Morgan Cathey, who finished the game with 7 saves.
However, momentum swung the other way at the outset of the second half. Despite their focus on maintaining consistent defensive play, the Cougars had their lead whittled down to 3-1 when Greg Stoaks scored only minutes into the second half.
Shortly thereafter, defender Tony Rotunno cleared a ball off the line after a shot had eluded keeper Cathey. However, Jason Smith’s goal in the 53rd minute erased any good fortune Azusa Pacific might have gotten earlier in the game as the lead was now just a 3-2 margin.
The intensity was palpable as the Sea Lions continued to attack while the Cougars looked to choose their opportunities to counter wisely. Azusa Pacific had 2 terrific scoring chances taken away when it was whistled for being offside.
With the final minute ticking down, the Sea Lions had 1 last corner kick to try and score but the ball was cleared and the Cougars breathed a collective sigh of relief. The win moves Azusa Pacific to 11-2 overall and 5-1 in the GSAC.
Jeff Teach got his first start of the season marked the Sea Lions leading scorer Brian Thames, whose 29 points ranks second in the GSAC, holding him without a point for the game.
“He did exactly what we wanted him to,” said head coach Phil Wolf. “He limited Thames and his number of chances and helped us get the win.”
There is no rest for the weary however. Azusa Pacific will be back on the field tomorrow, Saturday, Oct. 15, when it hosts Mobile (Ala.) in a non-conference game that begins at 1 p.m. at the Azusa Square.