SFU won the coin toss. Having chosen to defer, SFU nonetheless started on offence after recovering the Azusa Pacific fumble. Going for it on fourth and six, quarterback Miles Richardson was rewarded when freshman receiver Gavin Cobb caught the 36 yard pass for a touchdown. Just 1:20 in, SFU was up 7–0.
Saturday night on the road versus the GNAC-leading Azusa Pacific, the Clan’s fortunes seemed to have changed. 0–3 so far, and outscored 171–34 in the three games prior, it looked like they might have a chance at their first win since October 2014.
Their first shot on defence was actually relatively successful. Considering that in each of the previous games SFU allowed a touchdown on their opponents first offensive drives, holding Azusa to three points was an accomplishment. But the fact that Azusa even got three points was a sign of what was to come.
“We would have actually got off the field, they were fourth and four. We stopped them, but we had a defensive player line up offside which gave them a first down,” said head coach Kelly Bates. “So even then, we shot ourselves in the foot and given them the ability to go down and get that first field goal.”
Then on SFU’s next drive, during the punt attempt the snap was “handled errantly,” resulting in a turnover on downs, with Azusa gaining good field position. On SFU’s 28 yard line, Azusa needed just one pass attempt to make the touchdown and take the lead, which they would hold for the rest of the game.
Though the first quarter would end with SFU down only 10–7, Azusa’s lead ballooned in the second and third quarter with scores of 31–0 and 23–0, and the game ended 64–14.
“Well, right now we are not playing mistake-free football, and when mistakes compound themselves, it’s very tough to overcome,” said Bates. “Azusa Pacific was very disciplined team that played very hard. When they don’t make mistakes and we make too many it’s very tough to compete.”
The Clan’s only other solace came in the fourth quarter. Richardson made another 36 yard touchdown pass, with this one going to Justin Buren. SFU held Azusa scoreless for the quarter (of course with the caveat that it was unlikely that Azusa was putting out their best effort or players at this point — they played total of three quarterbacks, two of which put up over 170 passing yards each.)
“I’m not really about inspiring them, I’m about showing them the reality of our situation.”
If you look just at his passing yards — 224 — Richardson didn’t have a bad night, but two interceptions, nine sacks, and 80 yards lost tell a different story.
Buren was similarly effective as last week putting up 100 yards receiving. Cobb put up 57 yards receiving, while freshman Tom Franklin put up 45. Running back Jalen Jana led the running game with 41 yards.
Ante Litre, who is first on the depth chart in the running back position, did not play for the second straight week. Litre, who The Province’s Howard Tsumura reported was injured in the season opener versus Idaho State, returned to play against Texas A&M Kingsville but has not played since.
Bates was blunt about the challenges the team has faced at the beginning of the season, and what he has to do as coach.
“I’m not really about inspiring them, I’m about showing them the reality of our situation. The reality is that we played two Division I level teams to start the year off with a roster that is undermanned and undersized still due to the coaching carousel that was up here for a few years and we’re going to be recovering from that for the next two to three years — [. . ] it’s a process that’s going to take a while,” he explained.
“From there, when you come off those two games with the physical toll your body takes — both of them being on the road — and then play the two top teams in your conference, you haven’t set yourself up for success with your schedule.”
So far, SFU has struggled, perhaps even more so than last year. Last season, the team was able to appear competitive for much of their games, and lost on average by 19.2 points per game and lost two games by a single digit margin. This year, they have not lost one game by less than 32 points.
While Azusa (3-0 in GNAC play) and Humboldt State (last week’s opponent) are probably the GNAC’s toughest teams, any comfort gained from the fact that SFU has already faced them is erased when you realize that SFU has to play both of them again (the GNAC only has five teams).
Still, Bates wants to look at the positives.
“[These are] great opportunities for us to measure ourselves and really great opportunities to see what we’re made of in terms of dealing with adversity and you really won’t have that answer until many games down the road, this year or maybe in the next year, whether we faced that adversity properly and were able to grow from it,” he said.
“When you’re still trying to build that belief in yourself that you can do it, you tend to be fragile.”
THIS SATURDAY: SFU hosts the Central Washington Wildcats (1–1 in GNAC play). Last season, the Clan lost to the Wildcats 40–7 and 30–24 (which tied for SFU’s closest game last season). Last Saturday, Central Washington beat Dixie State 40–18 in a non-conference game.
Central Washington has an effective run game leading the GNAC in rushing yards, averaging 182.2 yards per game.
“Central [Washington] is not an overly complicated team in anything they do, however, they’re going to line up and smack you in the mouth as hard as they can. They’re very physical, they’re very aggressive, they finish every play right up to the whistle and they want to impose their will on you,” said Bates. “So for us to have success against this team we’re going to have to be very smart football players, we’re going to have to play very technically sound, and we’re going to have to bring the pitbull in ourselves out in order to compete with the aggressiveness.”
The game will be a homecoming celebration, with the game taking place at Terry Fox Field instead of Swangard Stadium. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.