Football Gazette's Small College Football Blog

Don Hansen's Football Gazette Blog of information, comments, notes, and tidebits on Small College Football. NCAA 1-AA & Mid Major, Division II & Mid Major, Division III, NAIA, and NCCAA

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Davis Stars, Azusa Pacific Rolls

By Gary Pine, Azusa Pacific SID

AZUSA, Calif. –- It would never have been said publicly but behind closed doors and only amongst whispers it could be heard last week. Azusa Pacific was more than just the best 1-4 team in the nation. The Cougars believed they were among one of the NAIA’s 25 best teams in the nation.

Southern Nazarene University, a team on the doorstep of its own Top 25 recognition, just might be the star witness in a case for Azusa Pacific after the Cougars dismantled SNU, 38-7, before a crowd of 2,083 Saturday evening in the “Canyon City.”

For the second time this season All-American candidate Jon Davis tied a school single-game record with 4 touchdown receptions and senior QB Rudy Carlton threw for 221 yards and had a hand in all 5 Cougars TDs as Azusa Pacific systematically and thoroughly put away an upstart Southern Nazarene which made its first-ever venture into California with aspirations of making a national statement to the pollsters. Instead, it was the Cougars who made a pronouncement that will surely leave the NAIA rating committee collectively scratching its head about how to properly evaluate a now 2-4 Azusa Pacific team that has certainly been a victim of a most daunting schedule among all NAIA teams and yet defeated 2 NAIA foes both considered among the top 30 programs in the country this year.

Azusa Pacific closed out with 31 unanswered points over the final 3 quarters and scored touchdowns on 5 consecutive drives to post its first blowout victory in nearly 2 seasons. Not since a 47-6 thumping of Eastern Oregon back on Oct. 29, 2005, had Azusa Pacific enjoyed such a large margin of victory, and the Cougars tallied their points in a variety of ways. They used an assortment of long drives, SNU miscues, physical force, lightening speed, and dazzling plays, particularly a couple by Davis, to run away from the Crimson Storm and in the process avenge last year’s 17-10 overtime loss at SNU in Bethany, Okla.

It took a pair of possessions for Azusa Pacific to figure out how to best attack the Crimson Storm defense but it was an ill-advised SNU decision that led to the game’s first score. After the Cougars failed to punch the ball into the end zone from 4 yards out on a fake field goal attempt, Southern Nazarene designed a fake of its own – from the Crimson Storm 9-yard line where punter Peter Orth, instead of kicking the ball, ran with it only to be caught by Joe LaPorta and Todd Dini a yard shy of the first down.
Azusa Pacific took over at the SNU 9 and 3 plays later Carlton hit Davis on a 5-yard slant to put the Cougars up 7-0.

Wendell Thompson, though, returned the ensuing kickoff 73 yards to the Cougar 21-yard line, and on the first play from scrimmage Tyler Schneider hit Jared Elmore on a perfectly thrown lob to the corner of the end zone to knot the game at 7 apiece. But that was the last time Schneider would be at ease in his own backfield.

Led by defensive ends Casey Roel and Kenny Simmons, the Cougars pummeled Schneider, sacking him 4 times, putting on a hurry on at least 3 of his throws and holding him to just 154 passing yards, 50 yards under his season average.
The Cougars moved out to a 14-7 lead when Carlton again teamed with Davis on a 1-yard TD lob on the first play of the second quarter. It was the cap on what could be considered a 2-play TD strike. On the previous snap, the final one of the first quarter, Davis beat one-on-one coverage and made a spectacular one-handed grab down the right sideline in a dead sprint to highlight a 59-yard catch-and-run that ended at the SNU 1-yard line.

“Rudy and I are really good friends,” said Davis, “and there are plenty of times where he just gives me a head nod and I know exactly what he wants. When it comes to the football field, we just connect.”

And that was just the beginning.

After SNU was held to just 12 yards on the next possession, the Carlton-Davis tandem went back to work as Carlton hit a wide open Davis down the middle for a 32-yard touchdown which pushed the Azusa Pacific advantage to 21-7 midway through the second quarter.

“We’ve always had this connection, where I know that if drop back and have time, Jon is going to make the play,” said Carlton. “I have all the confidence in the world in him, and it was great to get him some opportunities to score.”

Roel, who seemingly was in the Crimson Storm backfield on every play, then recovered a Schneider fumbled snap at the SNU 33-yard line to set up yet another Cougar first half score. An SNU pass interference call on a Carlton to Paul Hardiman attempt put the ball at the 10-yard line and 3 plays later Carlton leaned in from a yard out for his second rushing TD of the season and a 28-7 Cougar halftime lead.

Azusa Pacific held the Southern Nazarene on the opening drive of the second half and the Carlton-Davis tandem wasted no time getting back to work, connecting on a 58-yard scoring strike on Azusa Pacific’s first snap of the second half, giving Davis his fourth touchdown reception of the game to match the school single-game record that he equaled in this year’s season-opener vs. MidAmerica Nazarene University and that 2 other Cougars have matched over the past 40 years.

“They seem to be on the same wavelength,” Santa Cruz described of the Carlton-Davis duo. “It’s a great connection.”

Davis now has 12 touchdown receptions in just 6 games this season and is only 3 shy of Dexter Davis’ school-season record of 15 TD catches that he set in 14 games during the Cougars’ 1998 NAIA championship season.

“Records are fun, but when you’re 1-4, you just want to win,” said Davis. “This win feels so good. This is a team sport – Pelt (Alex Peltier) had a great block for me on a touchdown, Rudy put an amazing touch on the ball for me, and this was just a great team win.”

Azusa Pacific capped the scoring the with a Ben Hansen career-long 49-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, which in turn allowed Santa Cruz to turn to the reserves and offer nearly 65 players playing time.

Southern Nazarene, which came into the game averaging 333 yards of total offense, managed just 56 yards in the first half and didn’t help itself with 2 turnovers. The Crimson Storm got into a rhythm in the second half, moving into Cougar territory on its final 4 drives but the last 3 all stalled out on downs, including the final one which ended the Cougar 13-yard line with just under a minute to play.

“Anytime you come out and only give up 7 points, that’s a big statement game for our defense,” said Santa Cruz. “I expected them to get better this week, and that was what they did. Football is all about details, and I saw a team this week taking care of the details much better than before.”

Brandon Smith rushed for a game-high 79 yards on 21 carries to spearhead the SNU offense. Carlton finished the game an efficient 10-for-17 passing for 221 yards and 4 TD tosses. He becomes the first Cougar since Neo Aoga in 1999 to throw for over 200 yards in 6 straight games. Davis finished with 6 receptions for 162 yards. Simmons recorded a season-high 10 tackles and had a hand in 2 sacks.

With the setback, Southern Nazarene falls to 3-2. Azusa Pacific, now 2-4, preps for Southern Oregon, which brings its 2-2 record to Azusa next Saturday (Oct. 6) for a 6 p.m. game.

Monday, September 24, 2007

RED ZONE for 9/24/07

THE RED ZONE By Craig Burroughs

This season is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and memorable in college football history, what with the remarkable upsets already played and the long list of major powerhouse programs not ranked in today's Top 25, and it has been exceptionally exciting so far in my personal football travels as well. To start it all off with a bang, I stopped at St. Johns University in Collegeville, MN, the morning after this year's first game, North Dakota's rout of Humboldt State in Grand Forks on August 23rd. I had long been curious how college football's all-time wins leader, John Gagliardi, runs his practices without whistles and full-pads-contact, and the Johnnies had a 9:30AM session that day, giving me the perfect opportunity to slake that curiosity. I was amazed to find at least 150 red-clad players on the field when I got there, all taking turns doing play run-throughs in two groups on opposite ends of the field, dressed in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets. Roughly an hour was spent this way before alternate groups started at midfield with 40-second, one time-out end-game drills to see how many times they could score before time ran out. An assistant coach served as referee, calling penalties and keeping track of the clock time with a stopwatch. Tackles were made by tagging the ball carrier or running him out-of-bounds. SJU's offensive teams scored about 75% of the time during this half hour of drills. After practice ended for the morning, I asked Coach Gagliardi if I could take a few pictures of him in his office, and he graciously accommodated. Not only did I get some great photos both of and with this extraordinary coaching legend, we spend more than an hour chatting about football and my extensive travels as his assistants drifted in one by one. He was particularly impressed with my indestructible automobile, a 1992 Oldsmobile station wagon which now has more than 760,000 miles in its rear-view mirror, and he was kind enough to ask me to join him and his staff for lunch at the school cafeteria. One of his assistants, his son Jim, had just purchased a used van with 150,000+ miles on its odometer, and they both wanted to know the secrets behind auto longevity, leaping to the questionable conclusion that I must be some sort of expert because mine had traveled so far. Coach Gagliardi suggested I should write a book on the subject, and I assured him that I would include a car-care chapter in my book-in-progess. He also noticed that I got a spontaneous nose bleed during lunch, a problem I have been tolerating for the past 21 years with little effective treatment. He told me that he had the same condition when he was young, and a doctor recommended a simple solution which he passed on to me and which seems to be working well for me. So I ended up with far more than I had expected when I stopped to watch a St. Johns practice...I got some fantastic pictures, a much better understanding of the SJU dynasty, a terrific lunch, effective medical advice, a handful of new friends, four hours of indelible memories, and a date to come back in the spring to monitor a session of Coach Gagliardi's locally-famous "Theory of Football" class, which is, in reality, a theory of life class. Ironically, two days later as I was heading back toward Collegeville on my way home from a Canadian Juniors game in Winnipeg, the engine in my car finally blew, breaking the crankshaft and stranding me in Rothsay, MN, for a couple of nights before arrangements could be made for its replacement. I drove a rental car from the Fargo airport for a couple of weeks while mine was being rebuilt, putting over 6,000 miles on it in nine States and one Canadian Province in the process. I also bought the rental car company a new airbag at a cost of $1,600, thanks to a gap in the pavement in the middle of a poorly marked construction zone in Indianapolis that caused quite a shock but no physical damage to either me or the car. As a direct result of my automotive adventures, I have been home for exactly one night in the past month, since I had to drive back to Rothsay and Fargo during the two days I might have had at home last week. If I'm lucky, I'll have the luxury of two more nights at home in the next six weeks, as an emergency business trip to Alaska has interjected itself into my football schedule in mid-October. I'm not sure how much more of this excitement I can stand, but I'm hoping that more of it will be on the football field and less of it on the road for the rest of 2007!
* * * * *
I had another wonderful coach-related experience last weekend which took me back to my beginnings as a peripatetic football vagabond in 1990. That was Roland Ortmayer's last of 43 years as head football coach at the University of LaVerne in Southern California, and it was the first of my now 18-season-long quest to capture the essence of North American college football, and the year in which I met him at a Leopards game at California Lutheran. Ort is now 90 and residing with his faithful dog Sport in an assisted-living apartment three blocks from the stadium which fittingly bears his name on the ULV campus. I visit Ort regularly when I'm in California (I have family living 10 miles from LaVerne), and I promised him early this year that I would take him to the opening home game at Ortmayer Stadium this year. That game was last weekend against Whitworth, a team I wanted to see again since I had missed the first quarter of the only game I'd seen the Pirates in against Menlo a couple of years ago. It also gave both Ort and I the chance to see the first game of the Andy Ankeny era at ULV. Ankeny is a former assistant at East Texas Baptist, and he is the first coach at LaVerne since 1947 who was neither Roland Ortmayer nor someone who both played for and coached under Ort. The travel gods conspired to make the day a challenge for me, as my morning flight from Atlanta to Ontario, 15 miles from LaVerne, got away 90 minutes late. Then the rental car I chose had a mechanical "hold" on it when I got to the exit gate, so I had to choose another, which got me to Ort's apartment just 25 minutes before kickoff. Ort's daughter Corlyn and granddaughters Reina and Denise were there to help me with his wheelchair, but complications arose with the chair's leg extensions and we barely got to the field in time to see the kickoff. Despite the logistical frustrations, Ort and his family were able to spend two hours at the game, parked along the sideline near the LaVerne bench, and he was honored at halftime as part of the Community Day ceremonies. Many of his old friends came to visit with him while he was there, including LaVerne's AD, its President, its Public Relations Director and several former players and coaches.
He seemed to enjoy the hot dog and the carne asada taco from Cornie's Corner, the student-run concession stand which was operated for decades by his late wife and which still bears her name. The ballgame itself, which no one at ULV expected to win against the playoff-calibre Pirates, was competitive for the 1st Half, with Whitworth getting only a TD and a safety in the opening period and a lone field goal in the second, while LaVerne gained several first downs and looked good on defense. But the roof caved in after intermission, and Whitworth flew home with a 34-0 win, which Ort did not stay around to see end. Corlyn took him home midway through the 3rd Quarter, but it did my heart a great deal of good to see this extraordinary coach and even more amazing human being sitting on the sideline that he patrolled so faithfully for 43 years. One of my fondest wishes is that Ort be given, while he is still alive and alert, the best honor that could be bestowed upon him, induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. He certainly has enough wins (almost 200), but his philosophy was not the win-at-any-cost regime followed by many of the Hall's inductees, so his winning percentage does not meet the Hall's minimum requirements. There are, however, exceptions that can be made to those prerequisites, and Ort will have all the support anyone could ever have from the legions of players whose lives he influenced for the better during his lifetime of devotion to football at LaVerne. My job here will not be done until Ort has a bust in South Bend!
* * * * *
I was appalled, as I'm sure you were, to read the reports of the on-field melee that took place last Saturday after the Henderson State at Delta State D-II Gulf Coast Conference game in Cleveland, MS. After a 9-7 DSU win in which two HSU field goal tries from inside the 20 were blocked in the waning minutes of the game, Henderson's coach Scott Maxfield and Delta's Rick Roberts exchanged both heated words and blows instead of the usual handshake. Their behavior incited their teams to engage in a helmet-swinging, pushing and kicking riot which was a major embarassment to both schools and to their conference. Conference Commissioner Nate Salant, with the endorsement of the presidents of both schools, suspended both coaches for their games this week, put both on probation for two years with the threat of serious consequences for any future violations of conference sportsmanship and behavioral standards, and also reprimanded DeltaState for lax security both during and after the game. DSU also was cited for ignoring conference rules restricting the seating of home fans in the visitors' seating area, which had resulted in taunting and harassment of HSU fans during the game. Last year's on-field violence between Miami and Florida International players should have given all football fans and school administrators enough of a warning about lack of player discipline and sportsmanship training, but when something like this happens at the Division II level and is incited by the coaches themselves, it is beyond reprehensible. Maybe Delta State should rethink their team nickname...Statesmen seems more than a little ironic in this case!
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Thursday, September 13, 2007

RED ZONE for 9/12/07

THE RED ZONE By Craig Burroughs

This football season has certainly gotten off to a wild and woolly start! Four 1-AA teams (yes, I, like USA Today, will continue to refer to that subdivision of D-1 by its historic monicker, as the confusing "FCS" and "BCS" nomenclature is, in my mind, just another example of the NCAA shooting itself in the proverbial foot by its failure to focus group their changes for public reaction) have already beaten 1-A teams. Northern Iowa's decisive 24-13 win over my Iowa State Cyclones was the most lopsided, and was a shocking outcome for the largest crowd in the history of Jack Trice Stadium, but it was hardly the biggest shocker of this season, or any season in living memory. Two-time defending 1-AA champion Appalachian State rocked the football world with its stunning upset of then-#5-ranked Michigan in front of more than 109,000 Maize and Blue fans at the "Big House" in Ann Arbor.
You've all heard about the historical superlatives of this game by now, but it puts me in mind, once again, about how deep the pool of college football talent, both players and coaches, has become. If the top 1-AA team can beat a Top 10 1-A program on the road, who's to say that major college football's #16 can't upset the #1 team in the country in an opening round playoff game. Each year the argument for a 16-team playoff in 1-A intensifies, and App State has clearly shown the way.
I will not stop commenting about the clear injustice and hypocrisy of the 2-team popularity contest of the current BCS system until the bowl game mavens and major college administrators figure out that everybody wins when 16 teams vie for a real National Championship by actually playing the games! Tens of thousands of fans of schools like Boise State, TCU, Fresno State, Toledo, Hawai'i, Southern Miss and their underappreciated ilk will be extremely, and justifiably, grateful!
* * * * *
My season has gotten off to an unusual start as well. On my way home from my second Canadian Juniors game of the season, at Winnipeg on August 29th, my faithful Battleship JB, with over 750,000 miles behind, finally broke the crankshaft on an engine that had needed only one tuneup in 15 years. Rather than pay the price for a new car or shell out $10,000 or more to buy someone else's problems, I made the easy decision to put a rebuilt engine and accessories in my intrepid and widely-traveled Olds wagon at a cost of $4,500. While driving a rental during the past two weeks, I had a minor contretemps with a gap in the concrete while going through a construction zone in damage to me or the car, fortunately, but the shock deployed the airbag, meaning another $1,100 out the window since my insurance didn't cover it! I am safely back on the road now in my own wheels, and headed for a truly exciting and adventurous year. This weekend I'll be in California to see Whitworth at LaVerne, and I'll be taking legendary LaVerne coach Roland Ortmayer to the game with me. Ort is now 89 years old and spends most of his time in a wheelchair as a result of a stroke several years ago, but he is still quite lucid and enjoys reminiscing about his 45-year head coaching career, and it will be a real pleasure to see him visit the stadium that bears his name to watch the first Leopards home game in 59 years under the direction of a coach who isn't himself or someone who played for him. By the end of this year I hope to have seen at least 83 college games, in addition to another couple of dozen NFL, CFL and high school games. I've already seen 2 Canadian college games and a CFL game, and plan to see both the Vanier Cup(Canadian college championship) and Grey Cup(CFL title game) this year, as both are at the Rogers Centre in Toronto just two days apart. This may also be the season that I end with the Super Bowl, a game I haven't attended since Super Bowl IV at the late Tulane Stadium in 1970.
College football game #1,000 occurred for me at the first game in Saint Vincent's brand-new Chuck Noll Field on September 1st, which was also SVC's first varsity football game in 45 years. The opponent was Gallaudet, playing its first varsity game in 10 years, after fielding a club team during that time. GU's Bison won the game 32-13 against a coach who had been their mentor in 1970 and '71. I've seen three of the seven new teams for 2007 already, and will see the final two playing against each other when Faulkner meets UNC-Pembroke in Pembroke, NC, on the 27th of October. Until then, I will keep you posted on a regular basis as the thrills and excitement of a very promising season continue to unfold.
* * * * *
I have noticed a strange trend already this season that makes me feel even more strongly about a position I've taken for a long time....teams should try for 2 points on conversion attempts more often, if not most of the time. I was reminded of this while watching the Minnesota JuCo Kickoff Classic at Saint Cloud State in late August. Over a span of five games in two days, I witnessed 21 missed conversion attempts, 18 of the kicking attempts. Only one of the 10 teams made all of its extra point tries, and in one game only 1 of 7 XP's was good, while another game saw just one successful conversion in six tries. Of course, the success ration of less than 40% of kicks in these five games is far from representative, I have witnessed more missed kicking attempts than usual in four-year college games as well. It has long seemed to me that if you can't make three yards 50% of the time for a two-point conversion, you're not preparing very well. This is especially true when you consider that most teams don't prepare much for 2-point conversions. If you assume that only about 90% of kicking tries are successful, that means you only have to make 45% of 2-pointers to break even. Anything more than that gives you an advantage, and the odd scoring patterns created by successful 2-point tries is a further advantage, because it often forces the opposition to match the score, or possibly to settle for a field goal when they might be in good position to go for the TD. My advice to coaches: Spend more time on 2-point conversions. I was very pleased to see Lake Erie College's first college game last weekend, a 33-3 win over Ohio Wesleyan's JV, and the Storm's head coach, Mark McNelly, went for two successfully with a "swinging gate" formation early in the game. I would love to see more teams follow his lead and take control of the game's scoring patterns at the outset.
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