By: Brandon Braich, Peak Associate
In their first GNAC game of the year, SFU fell to Azusa Pacific 38–12 in front of a crowd of 656 at Swangard Stadium. Despite the lopsided final score, the Clan were within striking distance for most of the game, but allowed the Cougars to pull away in the second half.
In the first quarter, Dante Davis put the visitors up 7–0 with a short one yard plunge. Davis finished with 79 yards on 16 carries with three rushing touchdowns. The Clan struggled to move the ball early, with Brandon Niksich being unable to connect on several throws down the field.
Fortunes changed for SFU a few minutes into the second, when Niksich hit Solomon Hines out of the backfield for a 75-yard touchdown pass. After getting behind the defense, Niksich feathered in the pass perfectly, allowing Hines to romp into the endzone untouched. However, on the ensuing extra point attempt, a bad snap led to a failed conversion which kept the game at 7–6.
After forcing a stop, the Clan got the ball at their own 43-yard line looking to strike again. But after failing to convert on third down, coach Thomas Ford decided to roll the dice by keeping his offense out on a fourth down and four at midfield. Niksich dropped back and was able to escape the pocket when the Cougars brought pressure, but was intercepted by Micah Roth, giving Azusa Pacific the ball back with excellent field position.
The Cougars quickly capitalized after a long run by Zikel Reddick set up another touchdown run for Davis. The Cougars had success running the ball throughout the night, finishing with 314 yards. The ground attack was led by quarterback Anthony Catalano, who made a surprise start for Azusa Pacific. While Catalano struggled through the air, he finished with 128 yards rushing on only six carries.
Niksich was able to shake off the early mistake, though, striking down the field again by hitting Rysen John for a 50-yard touchdown. John lead all pass catchers with 122 yards receiving. The missed extra point proved costly however, as the Clan were unable to complete the two point conversion, leaving the deficit at 14–12 heading into the half.
Azusa Pacific answered quickly to start the second half, with Catalano leading an 88-yard drive down the field that ended with a 12-yard completion to tight end Shane Hursh to make the game 21–12.
Later in the fourth quarter, the Cougars looked to extend their lead with a short field goal. The Clan were able to block the ensuing attempt to keep the game within reach. Unfortunately, on the very next play, Niksich was intercepted again, this time by Ben Sukut, who returned the interception 29 yards for a touchdown.
The game was finally put out of reach when Davis rushed for his final touchdown with five minutes left in the fourth, pushing the lead to 35–12.
Despite the loss, there were obvious positives for the SFU squad, including the best game of Niksich’s young career. The freshman quarterback finished with a career high 312 yards passing and two touchdowns. The game also saw the return of Mason Glover from injury, who rushed for 45 yards on 12 carries.
Isaac Evans lead the way defensively, finishing with nine tackles, including four tackles for a loss, and two sacks.
SFU will now hit the road for a visit to Western Oregon University for their second conference game of the year. The Wolves are 2–0 in conference play.