On the very first play of the game between College of the Canyons and Grossmont College, sophomore cornerback Demajay Williams returned the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. However, it was called back due to a penalty.
Even though the play didn’t count, the electricity and momentum was already building on COC’s sideline, and the Cougars maintained that energy throughout the evening on their way to a 41-13 win over the Griffins at Cougar Stadium Saturday night.
Armani Edden got the start at quarterback and flourished, linking up with eight different receivers to the tune of 271 passing yards and two touchdowns, as well as 12 yards and a score on the ground.
The sophomore looked much more comfortable in the pocket compared to last week, taking his time to go through his progressions as the offensive line kept him out of trouble. When he did feel pressure, Edden was able to use his legs to scramble and make big plays.
“The test last week was a big one, but I definitely liked the growth I saw from Armani in the pocket tonight,” Canyons head coach Ted Iacenda said. “His ability to hang in there and throw some strikes, take some hits because that’s part of the game too, and scramble when he needs to, that’s a great part of his game. I was very pleased.”
Edden got the first points on the board quickly, finding Alonzell Henderson for a 27-yard gain on his first pass attempt, then connecting with Trevon Elliott two plays later for a 28-yard touchdown.
Grossmont started to build momentum on its first drive after gaining two first downs, but defensive back Jauqine Vukobradovich quickly squashed it by intercepting the ball.
Canyons was able to take advantage of the turnover as Edden found Henderson on a screen pass, and the wideout juked a couple of defenders on his way to a 29-yard score.
Sophomore running back Cayden Dunn gained a large chunk of yardage on that drive, rushing the ball four times for 33 yards.
The running game looked much improved and the Cougars were able to utilize their group of backs to not only break off big plays, but to move the sticks on short-yardage situations, too.
“We talked about it all week. We wanted to establish a running game and we put in a double tights formation because we wanted to run the ball,” Iacenda said. “I think our stable of backs is explosive and we want to be able to get them off so that was a big emphasis for us this week. I was very pleased with their ability to get hard yards and first downs on short-yardage situations, we didn’t get driven back a lot so I was very pleased with that too.”
Dunn carried the ball seven times for 63 yards, Moises Haynes had 40 yards on four carries and Cyrus Zuell rushed eight times for 34 yards.
Kartilus McFadden had three carries for 12 yards and scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we did pretty good,” starting right guard Azad Markosian said. “I’m never satisfied, I feel like we could always do better, but I thought we did a pretty good job running the ball. There were definitely some mistakes, but we’ll fix them.”
After a big play from Edden to Romello Cook went for 42 yards, Tanner Brown made the score 17-0 with a 27-yard field goal.
The Griffins got on the board at the start of the second quarter when Jarius Burnette took it to the house for a 63-yard score, but it was the only touchdown Grossmont would score.
“As a defense, we’re greedy. We don’t want to give up that many points so it was about getting back to work,” said Vukobradovich, who in addition to recording an interception tied for the team high with four tackles. “Creating a new identity for this team, create our own name and we did that today. We’re ready to come out next week and do better.”
Brown hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Cougars a 20-7 lead heading into intermission.
In the middle of the third quarter Edden found Elliott once again, this time for a 40-yard gain, and then capped off the drive with a 6-yard rushing touchdown to give the Cougars a 27-7 advantage.
Canyons gave up back-to-back field goals to Grossmont, and in the blink of an eye the game got tight at 27-13 early in the fourth quarter.
That’s when freshman wide receiver Tiquan Gilmore took the ensuing kickoff for 81 yards, setting up McFadden’s 7-yard touchdown that put away the game for good.
“For me, I knew what I had to do because we were at a point where we needed points on the board,” Gilmore said. “We were up by two touchdowns, it wasn’t enough, it was a ball game, so we had to get all the strength in us and just fight.”
“Special teams is a huge part of the game and at College of the Canyons we value it,” Iacenda said. “We spend a lot of time practicing our kicking game situations. We know we’re explosive, and we were much more disciplined this week. We didn’t have many penalties on special teams and obviously those big returns help, those swing momentum big time. Short fields are nice.”
Backup quarterback Michael Wilson entered the game for COC’s final drive and connected with sophomore Elijah Ebe for a 49-yard touchdown.
Henderson finished the game with seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. Elliott hauled in two catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, and Cook had two receptions for 58 yards.
Gilmore logged two catches for 17 yards and also had a rush for 12 yards while Ebe had two receptions for 42 yards. Emari Smith added three catches for eight yards.
Jonathan Thomas tied Vukobradovich with four tackles, Madison Wheeler had three including a sack and Taylor Lewis also had three tackles and a sack.
Hart alumnus Julian Salazar had a sack, as did Tyler Richardson. Freshman cornerback Chayce Edwards-Morgan had a tackle and an interception.
Canyons will hit the road for its first road game of the season next week, taking on Santa Barbara City College at 6 p.m.
“We have to enjoy the win this weekend, come back Monday and forget everything that happened tonight,” Vukobradovich said. “We try to approach every game like it’s 0-0, we just want to keep pushing ourselves. It’s not about who we’re playing against, it’s more about doing what we need to do, control what we need to control.”