Cougars face yet another challenge in Ventura College

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Battered by a brutal non-conference schedule, the road for College of the Canyons football doesn’t get much smoother Saturday.

The Cougars (2-3) host state No. 12-ranked Ventura College (3-2) at Cougar Stadium in a National Division, Northern Conference opener.

This comes after COC played teams currently ranked No. 4, No. 5 and No. 11 in its previous three games, all losses by a combined score of 149-55.

“We definitely need to limit the big plays,” said COC coach Ted Iacenda. “That is something, as a staff, we’ve talked about. We have a young bunch, and we have to make the other team beat us instead of giving up big plays.”

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The Pirates will counter the Cougars’ youth with an experienced squad. Ventura’s quarterback, top two running backs and leading receiver are all sophomores.

Ten of its top-11 tacklers are second-year players, too.

The Pirates won’t feel any sympathy for COC’s tough non-conference schedule, either. Ventura opened the year with tight wins over No. 25 Santa Barbara, 47-40, and No. 13 Mt. San Antonio, 34-29. They beat Orange Coast comfortably, 34-14, before dropping back-to-back contests to No. 1 Riverside, 52-27, and No. 2 Saddleback, 49-20.

The Pirates have used two primary running backs. Brian Burt has carried 52 times for 325 yards and three scores. Isaiah Brown has gone for 304 yards on 51 carries.

Ventura’s passing game has been its strength, though. Jake Luton is averaging 287 yards per game through the air, with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

“They’re explosive on offense and on defense,” Iacenda said. “We definitely have to bring our best game Saturday.”

The Cougars’ defense is somewhat in flux. They have lost middle linebacker Austin Davenport, defensive back Tyree White, linebacker Tobenna Okunna and defensive lineman Javon Brown for the season due to injuries. Promising defensive end Brodie Felkel left the team after the first game, Iacenda said.

The injuries have meant bigger roles at linebacker for Bryan Barrera, Zach Gragas and Connor Blanchfield.

Safety Blake Austin and linebacker Alonso Reeves are expected to return from injuries for Saturday’s game.

The offense is more settled.

CJ Williams has established himself as COC’s main quarterback. He’s averaging 164 yards through the air with eight TDs and two picks.

His No. 1 target has been Marquise Brown, who’s caught 20 passes for 393 yards and six scores.

Iacenda said he still plans to use quarterback Louis Eusebi in change-of-pace situations.

Kickoff Saturday is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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