The College of the Canyons football team had plenty of motivation leading up to its 53-51 win over Saddleback College on Saturday night at Cougar Stadium in the first round of the CCCAA SoCal Regional Playoffs.
For one, the Cougars lost to the Gauchos 45-20 in their season opener. On top of that, Canyons wasn’t even expecting to play Saddleback in the first week of playoffs.
Saddleback was a wild-card team, meaning that they should have played No. 1 seed Riverside City College. But, when the brackets came out, the Gauchos were scheduled to play COC.
“There was some backroom deals with decisions, I call them,” said Canyons coach Ted Iacenda.
The COC players saw it as a slap in the face.
“We took it as disrespect so we decided we just came into this thinking, if that’s how you think of us, we’re going to show you something else,” said linebacker Charles Ike.
That motivation showed early on as the Cougars played aggressive in the first half to mount a 30-19 lead by the break.
Running back Cayden Dunn scored three touchdowns before the team headed to the locker room. Although the Gauchos scored first, Dunn was able to even the score on an 11-yard rush five minutes into the first quarter.
Quarterback Armani Edden connected with Dunn for a touchdown with four minutes left in the first quarter. Saddleback blocked the punt to limit Canyons’ lead to 13-7.
Saddleback quarterback Chance Nolan scored on a 4-yard run and the Gauchos went for a two-point conversion after, but the pass was batted down to keep the score at 13-13.
Saugus alumnus Tanner Brown kicked a 32-yard field goal to get Canyons back in the lead with 12:12 left in the second quarter. Nolan threw another touchdown pass, this one to Liam Eldridge, to make the score 19-16 with 7:51 to go after a blocked PAT.
The two teams traded touchdowns with Canyons securing a 29-23 lead over Saddleback after Edden connected with Alonzell Henderson for a 13-yard strike.
With less than a minute remaining in the opening half, Edden and Dunn connected once again, this time for a 47-yard touchdown.
“Armani is phenomenal,” Dunn said. “He’s the guy that keeps the team together. He’s a true team leader, he’s got so much character. I’m honestly speechless about him. The way that he’s transformed from last year to when he was a redshirt to now, I’m speechless.”
The Cougars wasted to time getting to work in the second half as Tiquan Gilmore returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown to get his team a 37-19 lead over Saddleback.
COC scored two more touchdowns on its next two drives. After using a spin move to get around some defenders, Cyrus Zuell took it seven yards to the house with 10:51 left in the third quarter.
Edden extended the lead to 51-19 with a 78-yard bomb to Gilmore.
Saddleback hadn’t rolled over quite yet, however, and began what would become a 32-point comeback.
It started with a touchdown pass from Nolan to Clinton Allen to close out the third quarter, but quarterback Michael Wilson was able to keep COC’s drastic lead at 58-26.
The Gauchos were able to score three more touchdowns before the game was over — the final one on a five-yard pass from Nolan to Elijah Jefferson.
“In the second half we just let it up after were up by 30,” said linebacker Charles Ike, who finished the game with 20 tackles. “We shouldn’t have. We put a lot people who didn’t usually play in so they were capitalizing on that. But other than that, we just gotta keep on applying pressure. Next week we can’t do that.”
The Cougars continue to the second round of the CCCAA SoCal Regional playoffs and will play Riverside on the road on Saturday. Riverside shut out Mt. San Antonio College 48-0 in the first round.
“Riverside is going to be a tough one but we’ve got to come out to practice the same way we came out this week to practice,” Dunn said. “If we just execute and do our thing, I honestly think we’ll be able to dominate Riverside.”