APU senior football players stepped up one last time with a big win over 14th-ranked Colorado Mesa
Citrus Stadium was full of energy on Saturday night when Azusa Pacific football hosted 14th-ranked Colorado Mesa for the final game of the regular season. The night was full of events, as 19 senior football players were joined by their parents for a special pregame ceremony. The game also hosted the second annual “Salute to Heroes” Veterans Day appreciation event. The Cougars have had an up and down season, but seized the opportunity to make a statement in the final game, trouncing the Mavericks 56-35.
“We knew that this would be a heavyweight fight, and we landed way more blows than they did,” head coach Victor Santa Cruz said.
Colorado Mesa came out strong in their first possession of the game. However, Maverick quarterback Eystin Salum botched a pitch, which led to the Cougar defense recovering the fumble at their own 30-yard line.
The Cougars were able to capitalize on the turnover when junior running back Kurt Scoby found a hole and leaped into the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown run.
Colorado Mesa was able to retaliate with a score of their own when senior running back David Tann capped off a 12-play, 78-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7.
The Mavericks’ offense was able to move the ball, but the Cougars’ defense was able to force a total of six turnovers on the night. Junior cornerback Lavell Thomas and senior strong safety Taliuaki Suliafu each had two interceptions.
“The [defense] flew around like wild dogs tonight,” Santa Cruz said. “These puppies become dogs tonight, and they’re finishing the season the way you want to run through the tape. I’m proud of their effort.”
The Cougars’ offense was able to find their groove in the second quarter. Senior quarterback Andrew Elffers found his favorite target, sophomore wide receiver Weston Carr, for a 17-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to regain the lead.
After another interception by the Cougars’ defense, Elffers was able to sustain a five-minute drive which was completed with a one-yard touchdown run by Scoby to extend the lead to 21-7. However, the Mavericks’ offense was able to score on a 32-yard rushing touchdown by Salum.
The Cougars wasted no time of their own, when Elffers connected with Carr for an 87-yard touchdown pass to increase the lead to 28-14.
On the following drive, junior defensive back LeAndre Jefferson intercepted Salum’s pass, and the Cougars’ offense took over inside their own 30-yard line. Freshman wide receiver Jordan Bogardus hauled in a two-yard touchdown pass from Elffers to extend the lead to 35-14.
However, with 11 seconds left in the first half, Colorado Mesa wide receiver Virnel Moon was able to take the kickoff return for an 89-yard touchdown, cutting down APU’s lead to 35-21 going into halftime.
In the third quarter, momentum shifted as Colorado Mesa was able to claw their way back into the game. After a blocked punt set up the Mavericks in great field position, backup quarterback Rope Ruel, was able to find tight end Tanner Quick for a nine-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to seven.
After another APU three-and-out, Salum connected with wide receiver Peter Anderson over the middle for a 44-yard touchdown pass to tie up the game 35-35.
The Cougars refused to give up on this game, and they continued to fight back against the Mavericks. Once the fourth quarter started, the Cougars began to take over.
Elffers connected with sophomore wide receiver Darrell Adams Jr. for 26-yard touchdown pass to give the Cougars the lead again. Later in the fourth quarter, Elffers would find Carr for a nine-yard touchdown pass, and Carr’s third touchdown of the night.
The Mavericks were unable to respond to APU’s fourth quarter surge, and failed to score in the final quarter of the game, leading to APU’s 56-35 upset victory.
The explosive Cougars’ offense, which averaged 41 points per game this season was led by Carr, Scoby and Elffers all season. Carr had 10 catches for 203 yards and three touchdowns, while Scoby had 160 yards rushing on 34 carries and two touchdowns on the ground. Scoby, who had 840 rushing yards on the season prior to the game against Colorado Mesa, was able to hit the one thousand-yard rushing milestone exactly in his junior year.
The night belonged to the seniors though, as Elffers would throw for 333 yards and six touchdowns, which tied an APU school record. On the defensive side of the ball, Suliafu was responsible for half of APU’s turnovers, notching two interceptions and a crucial strip-sack on fourth down late in the fourth quarter to lock up the win for APU.
“I wasn’t supposed to blitz the quarterback,” Suliafu said. “But I said, ‘You know what, this is my last game, and I am going to go for it.’”
For Suliafu and Elffers, this may have been their last game of their collegiate careers, but they are grateful for the chance to play at APU.
“This program means the world to me, and I just thank the Lord for bringing me to this place,” Elffers said. “I had a couple Division-I offers coming out of high school, but I saw something different in this place and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Colorado Mesa finishes the regular season with a record of 9-2, and are poised for the Division-II playoffs. For the Cougars, playoffs are out of reach, but they complete the upset and finish the regular season with a record of 7-4 (4-4 in GNAC Conference play).
“When you look at this season for what it was, this team came in from week one and finished and grew all the way through the season,” Santa Cruz said.