SALEM, OR The Willamette University football team travels to Azusa, California this weekend to play the Azusa Pacific University Cougars, a team ranked No. 20 in the latest NAIA poll.
Saturdays game, set for 6 pm, will be the first meeting ever between the NCAA Division III Bearcats and Azusa Pacific. The Cougars, coming off an 11-3 season, made it to the NAIA semifinals last year before losing to eventual national champion Carroll College.
Both Willamette and Azusa Pacific are off to 0-2 starts, but part of that could be contributed to their opponents. The Bearcats opened the season by losing to NCAA Division II Western Oregon, and then followed that up by losing to the second ranked team at the Division III level, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Azusa Pacific has also faced some stiff competition, having played the University of San Diego, a NCAA I-AA school, and Carroll. The Cougars return 36 players from last seasons squad, including 13 starters (5 offense, 8 defense).
Offensively for the Cougars, senior quarterback Sean Davis is back for his third year as the starter after passing for 1,806 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Running backs Marcus Lampkin and Alex Peltier are both back, a year after combining for 1,149 yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior tight end Ricky Burgan is also a threat for the Cougars.
On the defensive side of the ball for Azusa Pacific, NAIA first team All-American linebacker Stephen Holte headlines a defense that was among the best in all of the NAIA last season. Another big-time player for the Cougars is defensive end Chuck Asiodu, who was an honorable mention NAIA All-American last year after tallying 14 quarterback sacks, good for third in the nation.
Despite losing 45-24 to Mary Hardin-Baylor, the Bearcats still showed a vast improvement from their season-opening 35-0 loss to Western Oregon.
Willamettes rushing attack showed the biggest improvement, gaining 282 yards against Mary Hardin-Baylor, after only gaining 70 the week before against the Wolves. Senior running back Quentin Brock (Fresno, Calif.) and senior quarterback Cameron Walton (Arroyo Grande, Calif.) both rushed for over 100 yards, and each scored a touchdown.
Bearcat Coach Mark Speckman is a 1977 graduate of Azusa Pacific where he was an honorable mention All-NAIA linebacker.