Cougars use second-half rally to defeat Bakersfield and cap off undefeated season

College of the Canyons wide receiver Brandon Pierce (9) breaks away from Bakersfield College defenders at COC on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Dan Watson/The Signal

It was a first half of football unlike College of the Canyons had seen all season.

The Cougars hadn’t given up more than 14 points in a game all year. They allowed a total of 23 points in their last three games.

Facing Bakersfield College on Saturday night at College of the Canyons, the Cougars went into the locker room trailing 24-14 at halftime.

“We had a heart-to-heart. Who we are as a family, as a program and what we stand for,” head coach Ted Iacenda said about his halftime speech to his team. “I said to them, ‘Listen, I would rather lose by 100 points than us come apart as a family. If we go down we go down swinging together.’”

The team rallied behind its coach’s words and came out firing after the break, putting up 28 second-half points and holding Bakersfield to only six points.

The Cougars defeated the Renegades 42-30  to cap off a 10-0 campaign — its first undefeated season since 2008.

“That was the first time a team has put that many points on us all season,” said linebacker Tariq Speights. “Obviously there was some frustration, but we needed to get back to playing our football. Not missing tackles, staying in our schemes. You saw how the tide turned.”

COC got on the board on its first offensive possession, as quarterback Wyatt Eget got the ball in the hands of explosive receivers that included Jarrin Pierce, Brandon Pierce, Tim Wiggins and Emari Smith.

Wideout Alonzell Henderson finished the scoring drive with a 1-yard sweep from the goal line to put the Cougars up early.

While wide receiver Leroy Deshazor didn’t have a catch on the first drive, he certainly made his presence felt the rest of the evening, finishing the contest with six catches for 154 yards and a touchdown.

Deshazor had one catch for 29 yards and another for 35 yards on the Cougars’ third drive of the game, setting up a Kenny Torrence 10-yard touchdown run.

“I just want to win. That’s it,” Deshazor said. “I want to produce for my team. I’ve been waiting on this moment and I’m glad I came up big in this game. We really needed it.”

College of the Canyons wide receiver Leroy Deshazor (4) makes the catch in the final seconds of the first quarter to set up the second touchdown against Bakersfield Colleg at COC on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. Dan Watson/The Signal

Torrence’s touchdown put Canyons ahead 14-10, but two fumbles by the Cougars in the first half led to favorable field position for Bakersfield.

The Renegades were able to score off both turnovers, which padded their lead in the first half.

The second half was a completely different story as the Cougars came out with a jolt of energy that the Renegades could not match.

Iacenda wasn’t surprised by the change in momentum. He attributes it to the work his players put in everyday, since even before summer.

“These kids are tough as nails. They put themselves through hell and back since February. They are built tough, built a little differently and it shows on Saturday nights,” Iacenda said. “Teams get down and tired and we don’t. Sometimes the opponents will say, ‘We never get tired’ and I say, ‘Nope, we keep coming hard.’ And we do.”

Running back Cayden Dunn brought the Cougars within three points on their first drive in the second half, scoring on a 15-yard rush.

Two drives later, Dunn zig-zagged his way to paydirt on a 46-yard run, making Bakersfield defenders miss and giving the Cougars a lead they’d never relinquish.

“It helped us out tremendously. Opened up lanes for me to pass the ball,” Eget said about his backfield. “Our running game was the best it’s been all season. If we can keep that up I don’t see anyone getting in our way. The running game was essential.”

“They were sitting on the pass game and we knew they were not going to respect the run game,” Iacenda said. “We harped on it all week long. Get the run game going. Tonight we got some great push from the offensive line and Cayden and Kenny are very good backs and do some good things on the field. It’s going to help us going further.”

Dunn finished with 19 carries for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Torrence had five carries for 21 yards and a score. Linebacker KJ Latu, who also plays fullback, scored on a 1-yard plunge in the fourth quarter on his only carry of the game.

Deshazor scored his touchdown near the end of the third quarter on a 31-yard pass from Eget.

Eget finished the contest with 289 yards and a touchdown on 21-of-29 passing.

The victory clinched the Northern League title for Canyons, who last topped the conference in 2013, Iacenda’s first season with the team.

Now, with an undefeated season under their belt, the Cougars know there is still work to be done.

“This 10-0 season has been fantastic, but it’s playoffs now,” Dunn said. “We have to come together. It’s going to get harder and harder this next path. We have to continue to come out with a team mindset.”

“Our motto is never be satisfied,” Speights said. “This is one step for us, but we’re trying to go all the way.”

The Cougars will find out their first-round playoff opponent Sunday morning when the official brackets are announced.

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