Cougars claim GNAC conference crown

For the third time in the past four years, the Cougars have claimed the title of Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) champions.

The Cougars won the game by a large margin, defeating conference contender Central Washington 44-7 on homecoming night.

“It’s just great to get the title,” head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “We work hard to win every championship. To be able to celebrate our third title in four years speaks a lot to what the coaches do, the school, who they are, and particularly, the effort that our kids give week in and week out. Not just during the season, but since January our guys have had vision, tremendous discipline and sacrifice.”

What was supposed to be a close and exciting match up turned into a dominant, one-sided performance by APU. The Cougars entered the game with a 7-1 record (5-0 in the GNAC), while Central Washington had a 6-2 record. In addition, Central Washington’s last loss of the season was on Sept. 17 in their first game against APU, where they lost 27-17. Since then, the Wildcats had been on a five-game winning streak.

The Cougars began the game with a deep play downfield, hoping to identify weaknesses in the Central Washington secondary. Junior quarterback Andrew Elffers said he believes the wide-receiving core was a critical part of the offensive onslaught that APU managed on Saturday night.

“When we have great outside threats like we do, it would be foolish for us not to throw it to them. It is important to test the defense and try to expose any weaknesses they may have,” Elffers said. “We have a sound O-line and an electric receiving core. Everyone on the offense comes to work everyday and everyone gives it their all during practice. When a team prepares hard throughout the week, it keeps our unit ready for game day. We need to keep doing exactly that.”

Elffers threw a career-high 321 yards and four passing touchdowns. Backup quarterback Chad Jeffries entered the game late and added another touchdown through the air. Both combined 420 yards through the air with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Weston Carr was the target of the night, hauling in nine catches for 189 yards and four touchdowns.

“Passing game-wise, we knew that we had to come out aggressive,” Carr said. “We knew that they would be aggressively blitzing and we just had to be perfect on the outside. We really just executed the whole game.”

Overall, the Cougars had 508 yards of total offense, nearly doubling Central Washington in first downs.

Defensively, the Cougars held Central Washington scoreless for the first three quarters. The Wildcats scored their first and only touchdown of the game with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter.

The Cougar defense recorded three interceptions against Central Washington and won the battle in the trenches with a total of five sacks on the night.

Senior cornerback C.J. Broussard was the recipient of two interceptions versus Central Washington. He expressed his pride in being a Cougar and his enthusiasm in the chance to represent what this homecoming game meant to him as a senior and leader on the team.

“This was big for me. Being my last homecoming here, I’ve been here for four years, and just what this night stands for. A lot of guys have come and gone through this program, and a lot of those guys were back here tonight,” Broussard said. “When I was a freshman, a lot of those older guys, I was able to look up to [them]. Now being in that position where incoming freshman or recruits can look up to guys like me, I’m so thrilled that I was able to leave this legacy and have a night like tonight. It was awesome.”

Last week, APU ranked sixth in the NCAA Division II Regional Rankings while Central Washington sat behind them at seventh. The Cougars still remain sixth in Super Region Three, while Central Washington has fell out of regional rankings.

With the victory, the Cougars are now 8-1 on the season and still remain undefeated in the GNAC Conference (7-0).

The Cougars have moved up another two spots in the AFCA Division II coaches poll, going from 15th to 13th, nationally.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this group. I love these guys and I’m very proud of them. I’m very happy right now, they played a great game, and that’s who they are as a group,” Santa Cruz said. “Everything’s got to be a big statement. We want to play our best football right now.”

Although the GNAC champion has been crowned, the season is not over for the Cougars. APU will play their last home game of the regular season and their last GNAC match up on Nov. 5 against Western Oregon for senior night. On Nov. 12, the Cougars will go on the road to face Colorado Mesa in their regular season finale.