Azusa Pacific shuts down Grand Valley in home opener

A historic night for Azusa Pacific University football ended in a 26-23 double-overtime victory against Grand Valley State in the program’s NCAA Division II opener at Citrus Stadium on Thursday night.

The No. 22-ranked APU Cougars hosted the No. 2-ranked GVSU Lakers in the Cougars’ first nationally televised game, opening their stands to a record-breaking crowd of 6,199.

“When we scheduled the game, we knew we wanted to be able to play the best to figure out what it was like,” head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “To see these guys take off like this is really outstanding.”

With 3:48 left in regulation, Grand Valley kicker Joel Schipper tied the game 13-13 with a 40-yard field goal. Neither team was able to score before the end of four quarters.

Senior running back Terrell Watson rushed the ball four yards to finish the Cougar’s 25-yard touchdown drive to open overtime followed by Jamie Cacciatorie’s extra point, which granted APU a lead of seven.

The Lakers then answered with a touchdown and extra point of their own, sending the game into the second round of overtime.

APU, however, finished strong against the Michigan team.

Opening up the second overtime period on the defensive side of the ball, the Cougars held the Lakers to a 37-yard field goal that gave Grand Valley a 23-20 lead.

Watson again rushed the ball one yard on the Cougars’ final play to cap the 25-yard drive for the touchdown to end overtime. The senior rushed 42 times for 207 yards, the fourth 200-yard game of his career.

The contest was relatively low-scoring for the first few quarters, something that could be attributed to the strong defenses of both teams. The Cougars sacked the Lakers’ quarterback four times and recovered two fumbles. The Lakers forced APU to nine punts, while the Cougars pushed five on Grand Valley.

“We wanted this game and we came out and took it,” sophomore cornerback C.J. Broussard said.

Broussard matched senior cornerback Ronald Douglas, former running back, for eight tackles on the game. Senior safety and defensive veteran Tyler Thornton added nine tackles while redshirt freshman safety Taliuaki Suliafu debuted his career with 12 takedowns. Junior linebacker Errik Manning led with a team-high 15 tackles.

“Those guys are awesome,” Santa Cruz said of the defense. “They’re young, they’re energetic, they’re teachable. Fun bunch to coach.”

The coach acknowledged that the game was worthy of celebration, but was also realistic about the fact that the season is only beginning.

“The big thing is always how do you go from week one to week two,” Santa Cruz said. “That’s what as coaches and as players we’re going to challenge ourselves to just get even better for next week.”

Azusa Pacific will travel to Humboldt State on Sept. 13 for a non-conference matchup.