Cougars lose to Western Oregon 42-36 despite an impressive second-half performance

In their first home game of the 2019 campaign on Saturday, Azusa Pacific’s football team lost a heartbreaker, leading to an 0-3 to start the season. While the result is not what the Cougars were hoping for, the team’s execution in the second half turned what looked to be a blowout into a tightly contested matchup.

The formerly winless Western Oregon Wolves used a mistake-riddled first quarter by APU to take an early lead. After a bobbled snap on the second play of the game led to an early three and out for the Cougars, WOU scored a touchdown in two plays thanks to a 47-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ty Currie to receiver Marquis Sampson.

Although the Cougars took advantage of a dropped punt return and even earned a first down on a fake punt play in the first 15 minutes, by the end of the quarter APU was down 20-9. The Cougars found the endzone again late in the second quarter when quarterback Tyrone Williams Jr. found receiver Jasiah Richard-Lewis open on a slant route. However, WOU matched that score with seven points of their own after a 17-yard rushing touchdown from back Omari Land, who would go on to score three touchdowns.

Heading into the second half down by 11, the Cougars allowed yet another long pass from Currie for a touchdown just three minutes into the third quarter, making it 34-16. Williams was eventually taken out of the game due to an apparent shoulder injury with just over six minutes left in the third quarter. Junior backup Anthony Catalano came into the game to lead his offense out of an 18-point hole.

“The guys speak a lot of confidence into me, and they told me after playing last week that if I get an opportunity to play again that they would have my back,” said Catalano. “I was ready for my opportunity and I’ve been waiting to play for a long time.”

Catalano immediately created a spark that APU’s offense had struggled to grasp all night. After the defense earned a second straight stop, Catalano fired a laser to Darrell Adams Jr. for a 26-yard touchdown, once again making it an 11-point deficit for the Cougars. Heading into the final 15 minutes of the contest, the Cougars earned another touchdown thanks to Catalano’s arm, bringing the deficit to just five at 34-29.

Despite some key stops from APU’s defense throughout the second half, they allowed yet another touchdown drive on the next possession for WOU. Luckily, Catalano and the Cougars were up for the challenge, as they scored a touchdown on their third straight possession, making the score 42-36.

With just over six minutes left in the game, it was now up to the defense to win the ball back for the red-hot Cougars offense. Although the drive lasted for over five minutes, APU made a big stop as defensive end Maeaeafe Alailima hit WOU punter Andrew Gross, who fumbled the ball on fourth down, setting up APU’s offense on their opponent’s 36-yard line.

It appeared to be the perfect story. With only 1:19 left in the game, the backup quarterback had a chance to overcome the first-half deficit and lead his team to their first win of the season. The final drive started off well, as Catalano connected with receiver Brandon Jackson for 11 yards. However, after giving up a sack and taking a false start penalty, it all depended on a 4th and 16 play with nine seconds left on the clock. Catalano had running back Bryce Grandison open near the sideline; however, the ball bobbled in his hands and the pass was ruled incomplete by the officials, icing the game for WOU.

“Right now I’m not looking at 0-3. That’s for the fans and everyone else to look at. What I see right now is that we have a very young football team who took a lot of positive steps tonight,” said head coach Victor Santa Cruz. “We were not a good football team to start the game, and we made a lot of defensive mistakes tonight. But those mistakes are destined to happen when considering the youth of this squad. We’re going to continue to grow and learn from it.”

So far this season, APU’s defense has allowed an average of 42.7 points per contest. They struggled immensely to stop both the passing and running schemes of the Wolves last night. Nevertheless, what appeared to be their stagnant offense from the previous two matchups quickly turned those pages against Western Oregon and showed what their talent is able to do. The Cougars have optimism in the locker room. They hope to show this team is capable of a lot more.

“We have a lot of new guys that are stepping into this team, and we’re going to always come together to keep pushing forward,”  said junior running back Gil’Scott Jackson. “I love this program. I am excited to see how this team will look when we make that push.”

Next week, the Cougars will fly north to British Columbia to take on Simon Fraser University. Like APU, Simon Fraiser is currently sitting at 0-3 so far this season. Kickoff will be on September 28 at 6 p.m.