The Cougars put up a fight against Central Washington in a hard-fought game, but ultimately lost against the undefeated Wildcats
The Azusa Pacific Cougars fell short today against the nationally eighth-ranked Central Washington Wildcats by a score of 34-23 in Ellensburg, Wash. The Cougars put up a fight in their upset attempt as the two teams were neck-and-neck throughout the majority of the game, but the Wildcats broke free late in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars are now 5-4 overall on the season, while Central Washington improves to an impressive 9-0 record. All four of the Cougars’ losses this season have come from two GNAC opponents – Humboldt St. (7-1 overall) and Central Washington.
“We knew we were battling a Top-10 team going into the game, so we knew our work was cut out for us. We played well in all three phases, and they were punching back, but where the game started to change was in the fourth quarter as both teams were looking for a break,” APU head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “I’m proud of the effort and the energy our team had, and we’re going to find ways to continue to get better in the details. I’ve got a good young football team that I’m very proud of, and even though it hurts right now, we’re going to do what great programs do and learn all we can from this and get better for next week.”
In the first half, both teams would score a touchdown and a field goal as the defenses would be aggressive. Both teams traded a touchdown in the first quarter and traded field goals in the second to go into halftime tied at 10.
The Cougars’ defense was stout, and APU was able to score their field goal off of an interception by senior cornerback Kenny Norton III in the second.
“The quarterback started scrambling and just tossed it up, and I happened to be in the right place at the right time. We made that happen throughout the entire defense,” Norton said.
Norton, Taliuaki Suliafu and Aaron Berry all had 10 tackles on the day. Norton explained that the team is simply playing for the guys next to them.
“We got after the ball, and we just have to keep focusing on the small details to make those plays and tackles. From here, we have to emphasize playing for each other, because we play for the man to the right and left of us,” Norton said.
In the third quarter, both teams would exchange short yardage rushing touchdowns once again, but Central Washington would tack on another field goal to take a 20-17 lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Wildcats broke away from the Cougars, scoring two touchdowns late in the game. One of those touchdowns came off the Cougars’ only turnover of the day, a tipped pass that was hit into the air and intercepted. The Cougars continued to fight and would score their last touchdown on the final play of the game, but it wasn’t enough in the 23-34 loss.
Even after the loss, the players are not discouraged and still believe that they can go against any other team despite their record.
“We feel like we can go toe to toe with anybody in the country. We tried to give it our best shot and it didn’t work out, but we still feel confident that we can play with anybody,” junior running back Kurt Scoby said.
The Cougars performed well on offense, but couldn’t get the running game going and struggled on third down, going 0-8 on third down conversions.
Senior quarterback Andrew Elffers was responsible for all three of the Cougars’ touchdowns on the day. Elffers went 22-31 on the day for 200 yards passing and a touchdown, while he led the team in rushing with 57 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Even though the Cougars’ defense played a strong game, they couldn’t capitalize on some opportunities that presented themselves. APU was able to force four fumbles, but were not able to recover any of them.
Santa Cruz is proud of his team’s effort and performance today, and despite a few missed opportunities, is looking forward to what his team can do for the final two games of the season.
“There are individuals who made plays that stand out, but what I loved was how our team focused, worked and kept believing throughout the whole game. Those were some collective efforts that had us in a position to win the game, but it came down to a few times we needed to make a play. We knocked the ball out four times and never seemed to be able to get our hands on it for a turnover,” Santa Cruz said. “Right now, we have a group of guys who are blue-collar, hard-working guys whose talent is on the rise, and we’re looking forward to getting back on the field to get better for another game.”
The Cougars will be on the road again next Saturday for their final GNAC game of the year and their second to last game of the season against Western Oregon.
“What I love about the learning opportunity for this situation is that we’re a championship program that has a new evolution of players who are learning how to sharpen their edge. We have two games left that we know about, and I know we have a great senior class that’s hungry to run through the tape in this race,” Santa Cruz said.