One step closer to being champions

c61eb4a6-1dbc-4ab1-915a-63b564bc9d79.jpgThe Azusa Pacific football team extinguished any of Western Oregon’s remaining hopes of taking first place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a balanced offensive attack, beating the Wolves 38-28 Saturday night.

After scoring 38 points, logging 196 passing yards and 197 rushing yards, Cougars’ head coach Victor Santa Cruz was not fully satisfied with the performance of the team.

“With the goals we have for this overall program, I’m not happy with how we finished the game off. I’m not happy with the turnovers we [gave up], and I’m not happy with some of the big scores [from Western Oregon],” Santa Cruz said. “We’ve got a perspective that’s larger than right now and where we want to go. We want to be where we’re playing Grand Valleys, we’re beating them and we’re a national contender. As a whole team, we know we haven’t played our greatest football yet.”

The Cougars opened the game with a drive that began on Western Oregon’s 22 yard-line thanks to a gift fumble on the opening kickoff. The drive was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Dasmen Stewart to junior wide receiver Kyle Dravis.

The next touchdown for the Cougars came with just under seven minutes remaining in the first half. Stewart finished the six-play, 63-yard drive with a 2-yard read option that faked out the Wolves’ defense as he ran to the left and strolled into the endzone for the score. This play and the ensuing extra point put the Cougars up 17-7.

Stewart completed more passes and threw for more yards than he has all season. He went 18-for-31 for 196 yards, one passing touchdown and one interception. He added another touchdown on the ground, rushing for 22 total yards on seven attempts.

“Daz did great. He keeps learning and understanding the system. He’s a heck of a competitor, a very good quarterback. We’re happy he’s our quarterback, and he brings a lot to the table for us,” Santa Cruz said. “The fact he that he is able to read defenses, pass and run is a heck of a tool and a weapon for us to have. It’s great stuff—good to see his growth.”

Junior running back Terrell Watson had a slow start to the game with only 43 yards rushing off 10 carries in the first half. In the second half, he transformed into a freight train, seemingly gaining momentum with every hit he took from the Western Oregon defense. He finished the night with 175 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.

The only interception thrown by Stewart was picked by Wolves senior linebacker Devin Wells and returned for 63 yards to APU’s 12-yard line. Wells was stopped by Watson, who zipped his way into the play and brought him down.

“[Watson] is a heck of a teammate. He’ll play every single play like it’s his last. Terrell did an amazing job today, especially being able to get us some first downs with some tough running,” Santa Cruz said. “Our O-line did a great job against what is one of the biggest D-lines in this whole league and perhaps in AmericaI don’t know, but that’s a big team. It was some tough running and Terrell found a way to get after it.”

The Cougars showed signs of sloppiness, playing uncharacteristic defense and an errant throw from Stewart that was picked by Wells. In three of the four touchdowns the Cougars allowed, Western Oregon crossed the goal-line with little to no defensive pressure applied. Santa Cruz says some of the things they need to fix are due to the young players still learning on the field.

“Some of the players that are in there are still growing. We’ve got a lot of young guys that are still in there and they’re playing good football,” Santa Cruz said. “Don’t take anything away from this team—this is a great football team, but for us, we have such a high standard about ourselves that we just know we want to be great, so we’re going to take this home, this great win, know that we’re going to learn and grow from it, and come back hungry and ready to work on Monday.”

The Cougars have only two games remaining this season. On Saturday, Nov. 9, they will face Dixie State (4-5, 4-4) in the final home game of the season. The game is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. at Citrus Stadium.