GLENDORA, Calif. – Down 10 points with seven minutes left, the chances of Dixie State College football remaining unbeaten in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play may have been improbable. But with improbability, there is always a chance of success. One offensive score, a defensive highlight and a special teams feat later, Dixie State College defeated Azusa Pacific 24-22 Saturday night at Citrus Stadium.
The second-consecutive win for the Red Storm (2-1, 2-0 GNAC) is the longest streak in three seasons. Ironically, it was victories against Western Oregon (31-23) and Azusa Pacific (33-23) that constituted that streak in October 2009. The Cougars dropped to 0-3, 0-2 in the GNAC.
Kaleo Nawahine entered the game midway through the fourth quarter and went to work cutting down APU’s 22-12 lead with two straight completions to senior receiver Zack Fox followed with a reception to Randon Willard. On third-and-one on the 14-yard line, Nawahine hit Fox again for a touchdown.
On the subsequent drive, Nick Largent and Tana Woodard forced a fumble hitting APU quarterback Tyler Tuiasosopo. In the pile, defensive back Ray Chapman scooped up the ball and ran 32 yards untouched for the go-ahead score.
Azusa Pacific had a final chance to drive beginning at their own 40. Through six plays, APU faced fourth down and six at the DSC 33-yard line. Instead of going for another first down, the Cougars put the game on the foot of place kicker Jamie Cacciatore. The kicker had hit earlier in the night from 32, 23 and 26 yards but missed from 42. Off a good snap, the low kick attempt batted off the hand of Dixie State’s Matt Tanuvasa and fell to the turf.
The back and forth action made the first half unpredictable. APU forced an early Dixie State three-and-out, then methodically marched down the field on nine plays to set up the first of three Cacciatore field goals.
Later in the first quarter, the Dixie State rushing game flourished. A.J. Johnson ran the ball three straight times for a pair of first downs. Three plays later, Griff Robles split a seam toward the sideline, then cut back at the 10-yard line to the end zone for a 39-yard score.
In the second quarter, Tuiasosopo hit running back Oliver Petty on a bubble screen for 25 yards and a touchdown. The score remained 9-6 after Sean Gibson blocked the point after attempt.
The APU lead was short lived as Cache Morgan took the ensuing kickoff officially 100 yards up the DSC sideline for a touchdown – Dixie State took a 12-9 advantage.
Seven of the nine plays in the next APU scoring drive were rushes. The Cougars accumulated 261 yards throughout the night, including a five-yard scamper by Terrell Watson to give Azusa Pacific a 16-12 halftime advantage.
Both teams went through the third quarter without a point despite having opportunities off turnovers. APU forced a Robles fumble, and Morgan picked off a Tuiasosopo pass to eliminate threats.
APU used a pair of Cacciatore field goals early in the fourth quarter to build a 10-point advantage.
Dixie State accumulated 232 total yards of offense but converted on half of their third-down attempts (6-of-12). DSC also triumphed in the battle of special teams thanks to plays from Morgan, Spencer Young and Tommy Ligman.
Defensively, safety Daniel Moffett led Dixie State with 10 tackles. Largent added nine stops and Tanuvasa had eight stops including two for loss.
The Red Storm returns home next Saturday for a meeting with the defending GNAC champions – the Jacks of Humboldt State. HSU will enter the matchup 3-0 (2-0 GNAC) after defeating Simon Fraser 41-21 at home on Saturday. Kickoff from Hansen Stadium is set for 6:05 p.m.