Hitting the road for the first time this season, the College of the Canyons football team struggled to stay the course in the early going against Golden West College in Huntington Beach.
The Cougars fell behind quickly, but regrouped at intermission to put up 21 straight second-half points on their way to a 35-24 victory over the Rustlers on Saturday.
Golden West (2-3) recovered a Canyons (4-1) fumble on the opening kickoff, which led to a Rustlers touchdown three plays later on a 22-yard run by quarterback Nathaniel Espinoza.
COC’s offense stalled on its first possession and Golden West was able to add a 32-yard field on its subsequent drive, making it 10-0 five minutes into the contest.
“We had been hammering all week about how we can’t get off to a slow start,” said COC head coach Ted Iacenda. “It’s a 1 o’clock game, it’s out of our comfort zone because A: we have not been on the road at all this year and B: we don’t even start in the weight room until 2 o’clock. Our normal kickoff time for us is six so it was a completely different-alternate-universe-type deal.
“For us to take that gut punch, get down 10-0 and then settle in, battle back and make it a game and get it close in the first half, I felt like we showed a lot of resiliency.”
The Cougars wouldn’t be held scoreless for long, as quarterback Armani Edden executed a 10-play, 60-yard drive on their next possession which he capped off with a two-yard rushing touchdown.
Two drives later, Edden found Romello Cook for a 14-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 14-10 advantage.
Edden balanced the run game with his ability to spread the ball to a multitude of wideouts in order to manufacture several long scoring drives. Four of the Cougars’ five scoring drives went for more than 60 yards and nine different receivers caught at least one pass.
“When we’re clicking we’re very efficient, we’re almost methodical at times,” Iacenda said. “It’s nice. It’s a blessing because it will get the defense off the field in three and four and five minutes spurts so they can be fresh. The O-line performed well and give Golden West their credit, they did a lot of things defensively, they were super aggressive and took some chances and hit us in the backfield a couple times. It was a very good game.”
Backup quarterback Zach Lewis came in after Espinoza got injured and built an 85-yard scoring drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run from the quarterback to give the Rustlers a 17-14 lead at halftime.
The Cougars’ first drive of the second half looked like it was going to end in a punt, but an encroachment penalty on Golden West gave COC a fresh set of downs on a fourth-and-five near midfield.
Three plays later, running back Cayden Dunn broke free for a 32-yard touchdown to give the Cougars a 21-17 lead.
Dunn carried the ball a team-high 16 times for 125 yards and a touchdown. Kartilus McFadden ran for 28 yards on seven carries and Moises Haynes added 26 yards on 10 rushing attempts.
On their ensuing possession, Dunn once again picked up large chunks of yards, rushing twice for a total of 26 yards to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Edden.
The Rustlers seemed to pick up some momentum on their next drive as a 20-yard completion and a pair of 5-yard rushes brought them to midfield, but quarterback Richard Wagner was intercepted by Canyons cornerback Chayce Edwards-Morgan. It was Edwards-Morgan’s second pick of the year.
After a COC drive stalled, Lewis was back in at quarterback, but the result was the same as he was picked off by Canyons linebacker Charles Ike in Golden West territory.
“I think we’re very proactive in terms of our halftime adjustments. The message was laid at halftime about it’s time to wake up,” Iacenda said. “I was very pleased with our team, they will not give up even when they get down they will fight. If there is a silver lining in that first-half performance, it’s that second-half performance where we come out, we fight and we really start to impose our will. We feed off that on both sides of the ball and that’s been a real pleasure to watch the past couple of games.”
The Cougars took advantage of the good field position as Edden found Emari Smith for a 37-yard touchdown to give COC a 35-17 lead.
Holding a three-score advantage, backup quarterback Michael Wilson subbed in for Edden and was able to get ample playing time in the fourth quarter. Wilson led three drives in the final 15 minutes, though the Cougars weren’t able to put any more points on the board.
The Rustlers were able to score a final touchdown on their second-to-last drive of the game after a couple of big gains and a personal foul penalty on Canyons put them in scoring position. Lewis threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to David Atencio to bring the final score to 35-24.
Edden completed 17-of-31 passes to finish the game with 206 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He added 16 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries.
Smith led all COC receivers with 55 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. Alonzell Henderson added 47 yards on three catches and Trevon Elliott had three catches for 39 yards.
Edwards-Morgan and Jonathan Thomas led the defense with seven tackles apiece. Thomas recorded a sack and Ben Seymour, Tovareay Hills, Jack Schultz and Ike each had half of a sack.
Canyons heads into its bye week before conference play begins on Thursday, Oct. 17 against Moorpark College, which currently holds a 1-4 record. The conference opener is slated to start at 7 p.m. at Cougar Stadium.