Clutch Defense For Azusa Pacific Earns Team Of The Week
Azusa Pacific is ranked No. 10 in the latest AFCA Coaches Poll
Azusa Pacific is ranked No. 10 in the latest AFCA Coaches Poll

Monday, October 3, 2016

PORTLAND  – It’s not often that a defense allows more than 400 yards of total offense and still doesn’t allow any scoring, but that’s exactly what Azusa Pacific did in its 31-2 victory over Western Oregon to earn this week’s Red Lion/GNAC Team of the Week honor.

Western Oregon’s offense entered the game averaging 34 points per game against Division II opponents, but Azusa Pacific stopped the Wolves on all four of their trips to the red zone, including an interception and a turnover on downs. The defense, which now leads the nation in red zone defense, even created its own offense when Mykal Walker intercepted a pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

The win was the Cougars’ fifth in a row to start the season, putting Azusa Pacific in sole possession of first place in the conference with wins over each of its four GNAC opponents. The Cougars also rose to No. 10 in the latest AFCA Division II Coaches Poll, which is the first time this season that any GNAC team has been ranked in the top 10 of the AFCA poll, which is the highest ranking in program history since joining NCAA Division II.

Early in the game, it was Azusa Pacific that was missing out on scoring opportunities with its first three drives stalling on Western Oregon’s side of the field, including a fumble on the two-yard line. The Cougar offense, though, had started the year 14 for 14 on red-zone opportunities. The Cougars began cashing in on those chances, starting with a 29-yard Jamie Cacciatore field goal, which was the senior’s 43rd career field goal, moving him into a tie with Michael Koenen (2001-04) of Western Washington for second most in conference history.

The Azusa Pacific receiving corps created the bulk of the Cougars’ offensive production with the help of the team’s dual-quarterback system. Freshman receiver Weston Carr led the team in receiving with four catches for 78 yards, while senior tight end Josiah Thropay  tallied 72 receiving yards on five catches, including a nine-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.

“The coaches are getting more and more confident in our passing game, especially with the weapons that we have with the receivers,” Thropay said on Saturday following the win. “Our offensive line is young, but they are able to pass protect pretty well, so we are able to move the ball down field in the air. If we can get our run game going again, I know that we can be unstoppable.”

Junior quarterbacks Andrew Elffers and Chad Jeffries split time at quarterback with Elffers completing 12 of 19 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown, while Jeffries registered 101 passing yards and completed the first touchdown of the game on a 13-yard pass to senior Tanner Henry.

Walker was the leader in tackles with eight for the Cougar defense, which ranks eighth nationally in scoring defense with 14 points per game. C.J. Broussard added seven tackles a forced fumble and broke up a pass, and Hunter Malberg recorded an interception and fumble recovery.

"Our defense has the hunger and the humility to keep getting better and play for each other, and that excites me for this next phase of our season," head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. "It's a very good defense, but we're nowhere near where we need to be. We have to keep getting better and build on this performance."

The Cougars go back to non-conference play this week, heading to Golden, Colo. to face Colorado School of Mines, which is receiving votes in the AFCA poll. As a whole, the GNAC is 4-2 against non-conference Division II opponents, including Azusa Pacific’s 28-10 season-opening victory against West Texas A&M.