College of the Canyons’ road win in Saturday’s regular-season finale encapsulated the Cougars’ year. They trailed Bakersfield College nearly the entire game, fighting uphill and surging over the hump in the closing moments. COC’s 2016 campaign has been bumpy. But through the high of a 2-0 start, the low of a four-game skid and the final act of outlasting the Renegades on Saturday, the Cougars never threw in the towel. Their reward: a bowl game.
The Cougars (5-5 overall, 3-2 in the National Division, Northern Conference) will play Mt. San Antonio College at Covina District Field on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Golden State Bowl. “To finish the way we did on a two-game win streak is a testament to these kids’ character,” said COC coach Ted Iacenda, “their willingness to buy into Cougar football and not give up.” That character was tested Saturday, as the Cougars trailed 10-7 for most of the second half before quarterback Matt Moore plunged into the end zone from 1-yard out with four minutes left to help secure a 14-10 win. That character will be tested one final time this Saturday against one of the state’s best defenses. The Mounties (7-3 overall, 4-1 in the National Division, Central Section) have allowed only 16.9 points per game, the eighth-best mark in California. “Yeah, they just have guys everywhere,” Iacenda said. “They are a juggernaut.” And middle linebacker Kyle Woolard-Hilton is the poster child. He’s recorded 13.5 sacks, tied for the most in the state. “Statistically, they are stunning on the defense side of the ball,” Iacenda said. COC’s Dorian Gerald hasn’t been so bad himself. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound freshman has recorded 12 sacks, buoying a Cougars defense that lost more than five starters to injury during the year. The Cougars have allowed 401.7 yards of offense per game, slotting them 49th in the state. Offensively, COC has steadily improved since Moore took over at quarterback four games ago. Canyons is 36th in the state, averaging 28.1 points. Mt. SAC is averaging 33.7 points. Saturday, those numbers don’t necessarily matter. It’s just another opportunity for the Cougars to play for a win and strut their stuff for scouts and the college football community. “It’s another opportunity for them to play this game and try to achieve their dreams,” Iacenda said. “This is a heck of a game and a great opponent, a team that has a tradition, someone we want to emulate, someone we want to be on that level year in and year out.” The Cougars upset Mt. SAC in the 2015 season opener, 30-6. The Mounties were ranked No. 1 in the state at the time.