A disappointing 35-16 loss for the Cougars begins the hopeful 2019 football season

After a gruesomely anxious waiting period for Azusa Pacific’s football squad, there was a sense of excitement heading into Saturday’s regular-season opener against the West Texas A&M Buffaloes.

Before the contest, APU was ranked during the postseason as favorites to win the GNAC championship after conquering their fourth title last campaign with a 7-1 record. Junior quarterback Tyrone Williams Jr., who had his breakout season in 2018 after being named the GNAC Offensive Player of the Week three times, is set to have a phenomenal year with a talented offensive roster consisting of players such as junior wideout Brandon Jackson and senior running back Bryce Grandison.

Needless to say, expectations are high for this team, and on Saturday they fell short of reaching victory. 

Their first drive of the game was a three and out that only produced one yard, and throughout the first 15 minutes APU’s offense saw a total of nine minutes and 49 seconds of action on the field, but failed to score on any of their three drives. Although West Texas entered the second quarter with the lead, APU answered back before the half with two field goals from freshman kicker Ramzee Jaridlywith, one being from 35 yards out and the other at 25 yards.

The Cougars best quarter came right after the half in the third quarter. Their defense created momentum after stopping the Buffaloes offense with a turnover on downs near midfield in the first two minutes. A seven-play drive from the offense led to yet another field goal, which gave APU a 9-7 lead. Another turnover for WT, which came in the form of a fumble after a hard hit from freshman Baraq Ross, led to a second strong drive for the Cougs in which they capitalized. A five-play, 54-yard drive ended in a 23-yard touchdown pass from Williams Jr. to Jackson. 

The next quarter proved to be APU’s kryptonite. Following the touchdown drive, WT responded quickly after an impressive kick return by returner Tobias Harris and later a deep pass by quarterback Nick Gerber. At the Cougars seven-yard line WT made it a two-point game thanks to a touchdown run up the middle from back Brandon Blair. An APU interception led to another touchdown drive for WT, giving them the lead once more, making the score  21-16.

From this point on turnovers were the biggest issue for the Cougars. After both a fumble and a turnover on downs by APU, WT scored a touchdown on two consecutive drives, making the score 35-16, which would be the conclusive result.

Quite possibly the biggest problem for APU was their run game. In total, their five rushers earned only 65 total yards, with the longest rush being a 15-yard carry from Aaron Baltazar. “They did an excellent job handling the gaps inside. They made us throw the ball a lot more than we expected to,” head coach Victor Santa Cruz said. “We need to be able to run the ball. But we played a good team and it’s early in the year. We’ll have good film to watch and prepare for the next game.”

This is the fifth straight contest where the Cougars and Buffaloes faced each other on opening night. Before this matchup, APU held a record 4-0 against their GNAC opponent. However, on this night, a night in which WT was celebrating the arrival of their new stadium in front of over 10,000 fans, the Cougars couldn’t keep their streak alive.

“The turnovers in the second half killed any momentum we had after the third,” said Santa Cruz. “We played a strong team. I’ve had better nights in terms of coaching football, but our team will learn from this.”

APU football’s next game will be on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 5 p.m central standard time, against Missouri S&T in Rolla, Missouri.