Azusa Pacific stuns GVSU in double overtime

Azusa Pacific RB Terrell Watson collides with a pair of GVSU defenders on Thursday night.

Courtesy/Tim Brown

Azusa Pacific RB Terrell Watson collides with a pair of GVSU defenders on Thursday night.

Jay Bushen

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Azusa Pacific University senior tailback Terrell Watson rumbled through arm tackles, stumbled over ill-fated defenders and effectively humbled the No. 2 team in the country with a performance he won’t soon forget.

Watson’s 42-carry, 207-yard night was capped with a game-winning 1-yard touchdown run that propelled No. 22 APU past Grand Valley State University in a 26-23 thriller on Thursday night in Azusa, Calif.

It was certainly a thrilling game for Watson, who was the GNAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2013. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound juggernaut finished with three scores and accounted for 223 yards.

“He’s a tough runner, and he got better as the game went on,” said GVSU coach Matt Mitchell. “I thought we did a good job containing him for two or three quarters but in that fourth quarter, and in the overtimes, they grinded it out.”

It was a well-deserved victory for APU, which prevailed in a slugfest full of bone-rattling hits, sloppy passing attacks and opportunistic defenses.

Opportunities presented themselves to both offenses in a 13-13 game late in the fourth quarter, but overtime was needed after both defenses stood tall.

In the first round of overtime, Watson pounded the rock six straight times for an eventual score that would put the Cougars up 20-13.

GVSU responded with a 1-yard touchdown run from senior running back Michael Ratay five plays later, but, after resetting for the second round of overtime, the Lakers were forced to settle for a field goal.

When the Cougars got the ball back, they put the fate of the game in the hands of their playmaker. Five Watson carries later, it was over.

“Credit Azusa Pacific,” Mitchell said. “But Grand Valley made a lot of mistakes.”

Miscues were a common occurrence for both teams. GVSU simply made more of them. Four fumbles, three turnovers and a pair of poorly-timed plays on special teams – a running into the kicker penalty and a missed field goal with 3:48 remaining – all seemed to add up.

It wasn’t exactly a head-scratching loss for GVSU, but the team’s inability to establish itself offensively came as a surprise to many Laker fans. The team began six drives in APU territory in regulation, but squandered five of those opportunities while its rushing attack struggled.

“We didn’t run the ball, and when Grand Valley doesn’t run the ball effectively it’s hard to set up the things we do in the passing game,” Mitchell said.

Senior quarterback Heath Parling was under duress constantly, and couldn’t seem to find a rhythm against APU’s defense. He completed just 16-of-36 attempts for 199 yards to go with a touchdown and an interception.

The Cougars were active defensively, and seemed to dictate the line of scrimmage with a number of well-timed blitzes. GVSU’s offensive line looked out of sync at times, which is one of the issues the Lakers figure to address in practice this week.

They’ll have to figure it out in a hurry though, because GVSU hosts reigning GLIAC champion Ohio Dominican University (1-0) on Sept. 13. The Panthers notched a convincing 57-14 victory when the teams last met in 2013.

“We’ve got tough guys in this locker room,” Mitchell said. “We can’t feel sorry for ourselves for too long because we’ve got a good Ohio Dominican team coming to Lubbers Stadium next weekend.”