The Cougar football team concluded their last regular season home game with another victory, defeating Western Oregon 33-8. They finished in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) undefeated with a perfect 8-0 conference record and remain undefeated at home 5-0.
The final home game celebrated senior night for the Cougars and observed APU’s first Heroes Weekend game to honor those who have served and currently serve in the military.
Sophomore linebacker Aaron Berry said the team was playing for one another.
“We knew that it was senior night, so all of us underclassmen that played tonight just wanted to give our all for them. This could be our last home game. It was just a blessing to go out there. Every game is a playoff game to us,” Berry said.
Head coach Victor Santa Cruz said Heroes Weekend meant a lot to him because his father was a Marine Corps officer.
“Anytime we can appreciate those heroes through the game of football, as silly as this game can be, is outstanding. These men and women need to be recognized, because it’s their sacrifices that make this country successful,” Santa Cruz said.
The Cougars came out aggressive on all sides of the ball against Western Oregon. Dominant defense was the strong point in this game for the Cougars. After the first half alone, the Cougars forced Western Oregon to punt eight times, holding them to zero passing yards. The Wolves only had 29 yards of total offense as the Cougars went into halftime with a 20-0 lead.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Cougars. The offense managed to move the ball well against Western Oregon and almost doubled the Wolves in every stat category, which included penalties. APU had a total of 14 penalties on the night, which negated a couple of Cougar touchdowns.
“Tonight there were some penalties, and with a lot more on the table we can’t make those little tiny mistakes. We have to clean that up,” Santa Cruz said.
Starting quarterback Andrew Elffers said he was happy with the win, but also believed the team could have played a better game both offensively and by fixing the mistakes that were made in penalties.
“It’s always good to finish the GNAC undefeated, but I’m not satisfied with our offensive performance. I think we had more on the table that we could have exposed,” Elffers said. “We’ll go to the film room and we’ll look over the plays. They are easy corrections to make. We’ve just got to clean up the little details, and after that I think we’ll be good to go.”
The Cougars are preparing to play their last regular season game at Colorado Mesa on Saturday, Nov. 12. The non-conference match up will be a challenge for the Cougars, as both teams are nationally recognized.
“The goal this year is to win one game at a time, and now we’ve put ourselves in a position to make a playoff run. Obviously, next week is big,” Santa Cruz said. “[Colorado] Mesa is a great program, and we’re hungry to get to the playoffs.”
The Cougars, now 9-1 on the season, are ranked 13th nationally in the AFCA Coaches’ Poll. Although Colorado Mesa, now 8-2 on the season, is not in the top-25 in the AFCA, they are ranked regionally. APU is ranked sixth in Super Region Three, while Colorado Mesa is ranked seventh in Super Region Four.
The last time APU traveled to Colorado the team lost their only game of the season to Colorado School of Mines. Colorado Mesa defeated Colorado School of Mines twice this season. In order for APU to secure a victory, they will have to play a nearly flawless game.
Despite the stakes, the Cougars are trying to stay level-headed by remaining confident in their approach.
“Our approach this week is no different,” Berry said. “Since the other Colorado game, we’ve grown every game. That’s the number one thing: the more that we grow, the better we’ll play. Nothing is going to change – we’re a team, we’re family and we’re just going to go out there and play defense.”
With major implications on the line for both teams, the season finale between APU and Colorado Mesa will greatly impact how the 2016 NCAA playoff picture looks.