Canyons football falls to Saddleback in season opener

College of the Canyons' wide receiver Alonzell Henderson (2) makes the catch against Saddleback College defender Caleb Monestime (18) to set up the touchdown for COC in the first quarter at COC on Saturday, September 07, 2019. Dan Watson/The Signal

After the College of the Canyons football team lost its season opener 45-20 to Saddleback College at home on Saturday night, Cougars head coach Ted Iacenda told his team in the postgame huddle not to hang their heads.

He reminded his players that it’s still a long season and this first game wasn’t going to define them.

“Intensity is going to be up, I’m going to be fired up, coaches are going to be on our butts to get better and take this ‘L’ on the chin and just come back even harder,” said wide receiver Alonzell Henderson. “It’s the first game, we expect to do good, but it takes hard work and we didn’t execute tonight. We came out complacent. We have to pick up the energy and make sure we come back harder next game.”

Saddleback started with the ball and put together a well-executed opening drive, getting down to the red zone for an early opportunity to score.

Gauchos quarterback Chance Nolan fired a pass to Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda near the left sideline on third down with seven yards to reach paydirt, and the wideout was able to break a couple tackles to find the end zone.

The Cougars struggled to wrap up the Gauchos, especially in the first half, and Iacenda made it clear that the team would make tackling a priority at practice this week, among other things.

“I was disappointed early on with our tackling,” Iacenda said. “We had them stopped dead in the rights on a touchdown drive and let them slip through. It’s weird because we tackled more in this camp than we ever have, so we have to go back and evaluate that.”

Canyons’ opening drive was the opposite of Saddleback’s. Running back Cayden Dunn couldn’t find room to operate on two rushing attempts and then Colton Doyle threw an interception on his first pass of the game.

On the very next drive Doyle mishandled the snap, picked up the ball in the end zone and threw it away, but was called for intentional grounding which resulted in a safety.

COC’s defense was able to hold its own and get the ball back to the offense, and they capitalized.

Armani Edden came in for Doyle and seemed to change the momentum instantaneously, finding Henderson for a 29-yard gain. The Cougars got stopped three times at the goal line, but Edden took it in himself on fourth down.

Edden and Doyle switched off throughout the game. The former finished 19-for-34 for 211 yards a passing touchdown and rushing score. The latter went 3-of-13 for 42 yards and an interception.

“We’re young and this is obviously their first year in this offense so we have to grow up there quickly. Stand in the pocket and make some throws,” Iacenda said about his quarterbacks. “I thought our offensive line battled, they were good up front and did some things that really affected us, but we obviously have to find a better way running the ball too. 

“There was a lot of good things, a lot of bad things, we have to go back and see what we liked what we didn’t like. They both can play, there’s no question they did a lot of good things, so we’ll see.”

In the second quarter, Saddleback mishandled a pitch attempt and Ben Seymour was able to recover the fumble.

Seymour, a Valencia alumnus, was wreaking havoc on Saddleback’s offensive line all game. So did captain Jack Schultz, who recorded the only sack for the Cougars, and Tyler Richardson who forced two fumbles to go along with a team-high eight tackles.

Khalib Johns and Charles Ike each had seven tackles. Jauqine Vukobradovich and Jonathan Thomas had six apiece.

“Obviously the outcome wasn’t what I hoped it would be, but this is a great group of guys,” Seymour said. “We have high expectations for the season and we’re going to keep working and fix the mistakes we made tonight.”

After a punt from each team, Canyons was able to tie the game at 10-10. Another Valencia standout, Moises Haynes, broke off an 11-yard run to start the drive. Edden connected with wide receiver Trevon Elliott three times for a total of 29 yards, setting up Saugus grad Tanner Brown for a successful 44-yard field goal.

However, Nolan was able to connect with his receiver Liam Eldridge twice for scores, giving Saddleback a 24-10 lead heading into halftime.

Doyle started the second half for Canyons and found Henderson for a 26-yard gain. Elliott caught two more passes for 16 yards to set up Brown for another field goal from 45 yards out that he converted.

Henderson finished the game with six catches for 139 yards and Elliott logged six receptions for 55 yards.

“We’re a very dangerous offense, we have a lot of weapons,” Edden said. “Unfortunately we just didn’t execute the way we wanted tonight.”

Trailing 24-13, the Cougars had the chance to make it a one-score game, but the snap on a 42-yard field goal attempt was botched and they turned it over on downs. 

The Gauchos took advantage of the momentum shift and scored to make it 31-13 and put the game out of reach.

The final score for Canyons came on a 35-yard touchdown reception from Edden to Romello Cook.

COC will look to rebound next week as it takes on Grossmont College at Cougar Stadium.

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