In a battle of offensive talent, the Cougars could not gain vengeance on their biggest GNAC football rival
It came down to the final seconds between the Azusa Pacific Cougars and the Humboldt State Lumberjacks, but in the end, the Jacks were victorious in their epic homecoming comeback. It was all offense, as Humboldt State out-dueled the Cougars by a score of 52-49.
There were 1,301 yards gained and 14 touchdowns scored in total between the two rival Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) teams.
“The bottom line is that we came here to win the game… there will be some things we’ll have to look at in film. This is a very good offense and we knew that. We’re a good team, and we have to make sure to get better with the little details,” APU head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “This was a heck of a ballgame and we ended up three points on the wrong side.”
The Cougars fought all the way until the end and had the chance to win the game, but could not pull off the miracle in the final seconds. Nonetheless, Santa Cruz expressed that he was pleased with how his team performed.
“I’m very proud of my football team. I’m proud of the way they battled, their effort and what they did out there,” Santa Cruz said.
In the first, the Cougars exploded onto the scene offensively, scoring two touchdowns early in the game. Junior running back Kurt Scoby capped off an 11-play, 69-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run. Later in the first, senior quarterback Andrew Elffers connected with sophomore wide receiver Weston Carr for a four-yard touchdown pass.
In the second quarter, the Lumberjacks would come back to life, and trade blows with the Cougars. Both teams would score three touchdowns in the second, but APU still held a solid 35-14 lead. Scoby would score two more touchdown runs, and sophomore WR Darrell Adams Jr. would haul in a 25-yard touchdown as well. The Jacks were led by senior RB Ja’Quan Gardner, who scored two touchdowns in the second, one of which included a 92-yard kickoff return before the half.
However, in the second half, the Lumberjacks would rally their comeback. In the third, Gardner would rush for two more touchdowns, while the Cougars would add one and lead by only one score, 42-35 after three.
In the fourth, two costly red zone turnovers for the Cougars would lead to two more touchdowns by Gardner, and the Jacks would take their first lead in the game, 49-42 with eight minutes left in the fourth.
“The two red zone turnovers were big for them. We didn’t get any turnovers, and we got to do that. In a tough game like this, a battle of two programs, it always seems to come down to the end for us,” Santa Cruz said.
The Cougars would fight back to tie the game at 49 with a few minutes left in regulation, but the Jacks would drill a 47-yard field goal with over a minute left in the game, giving them a 52-49 lead. The Cougars would lead one last drive in the final seconds, but after being knocked out of field goal range, their last attempt towards the end zone for the game-winning touchdown fell incomplete, leading to the Jacks sweeping the Cougars this season.
In both wins, the Jacks have been led by Gardner, who is gaining the attention of NFL scouts. In the first match of the season, Gardner ran for 168 yards and three touchdowns. On Saturday, Gardner was responsible for six of the seven touchdowns scored by the Lumberjacks. He had 293 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, including the 92-yard kickoff return touchdown.
In this game, Gardner broke the GNAC record for most touchdowns scored in a collegiate career with 66, breaking the previous record (64), which was held by former Cougars’ running back, Terrell Watson.
Although the Cougars’ defense struggled in this game, they gave their team the chance to win at the end by forcing Humboldt to a field goal for the first time on the day. Junior defensive back Lavell Thomas reflected on the final moments of the game.
“It’s important to soak in this moment—don’t let it get the best of you and to just keep playing,” Thomas said. “On that last [defensive] drive, we did our job—focusing on our assignments and making tackles. We held them to a field goal and we did the best we could.”
Many of the Cougars offensive members had phenomenal days, despite the loss. Scoby, who missed the first matchup against Humboldt State earlier in the year, ran for 126 yards on 22 attempts and three touchdowns. Elffers had 475 passing yards and two passing touchdowns; Elffers also added another 84 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The young Cougars’ receiving core stepped up big time as well. Carr had nine catches for 171 yards and a touchdown; fellow sophomore Darrell Adams Jr. led the team with 12 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown—a career best performance for Adams.
“I love what Darrell did. It was great to see that young man really step forward the way he did, and that’s what I really love about the program and where we’re at,” Santa Cruz said. “There are some young guys who are really starting to mature and become the kind of players that we need them to be.”
Adams explained after the game that he just wanted to step up and help his team in any way he could.
“In every game, all you can do is focus on doing your job, and I knew that coming in to this game. I took a step forward and want to do whatever I can to help the team,” Adams said. “Everyone is depending on each other on the team… you never know when it’s going to be your time to step up, and it really comes down to treating every rep like it’s your last.”
The Cougars now fall to 4-3 on the season (2-3 in GNAC play), while the Lumberjacks improve to 5-1 and are now in control of first place in the conference. As for what’s next: the Cougars plan to improve and make the most out of the season they have left.
“We’re going to get better. We’re going to attack the season and make the most of it. There’s a lot of good football left to be had,” Santa Cruz said. “We get to go home next week, get back on track, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
APU will play against the winless Simon Fraser Clan (0-6) at Citrus Stadium next Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Cougars’ homecoming game. APU beat Simon Fraser by a score of 83-7 earlier in the season.