The College of the Canyons team hadn’t practiced on Thanksgiving since 2008, but with a playoff game against No. 1 seed Riverside looming, the Cougars were on campus on a gloomy Thursday morning.
The team gathered in the school’s “indoor practice facility,” as coach Ted Iacenda called it, although it was really the COC parking garage, which was conveniently built earlier this year. Iacenda was taking precautionary measures to make sure the rain wouldn’t cause any colds or illnesses.
“It’s obviously exciting because you think Thanksgiving, you think football,” said COC defensive coordinator Dan Corbet. “It’s kind of nice to still be playing on Thanksgiving and watching these guys chase their dreams and keep playing and competing for another game.”
Canyons will travel to Riverside this weekend to play the Tigers for the first time in program history in the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Southern California Regional Championship game. COC wants to make a good first impression with a win, but it won’t be easy.
In addition to being the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, Riverside shut out Mt. San Antonio College 48-0 in the first round. Quarterback Jacob Barlage led the offense, throwing 26-of-40 with 322 yards and two touchdowns.
Barlage, who has played in 11 games this season, is one of two possible quarterbacks the Cougars could see on Saturday. The other is Mike Irwin. In eight games, Irwin has completed 103-for-468 passes for 1,367 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“We just use all our experience from other games,” said defensive end Ben Seymour, who leads the team with 12 sacks. “We’ve seen pretty much all the quarterbacks out there. We’ve seen guys that can run, quarterbacks that have a good arm, so we just kind of gauge that off the past games that we’ve played to use our experience that way.”
The Tigers’ ground game is led by Thomas Kinslow, who has rushed for 589 yards and six touchdowns on 83 carries this season. Jamon McGlory and Tyler Thomas have also logged over 200 rushing yards this year.
Riverside’s running backs are big, so playing fundamentally sound will be key for Canyons’ defense.
“Try not to tackle them up high,” Corbet said, “stop their legs and hopefully we can stop their momentum and not let them get those extra yards. Tackle low, tackle hard, also gang tackles.”
Cougars quarterback Armani Edden completed 17-of-24 passes for four touchdowns with no interceptions in last week’s 58-53 win over Saddleback College. Edden was named the starting quarterback after the first game of the season and has flourished in the role.
“With my coaching staff I feel like I’ve developed more,” Edden said. “Just putting the time into the little things is what has made the difference for me this season.”
Alonzell Henderson has been his top target this season. Henderson could possibly be nearing 1,000 yards this season, as he is averaging 80.7 yards per game for a total of 888 yards and eight touchdowns on 52 catches.
Cayden Dunn has been reliable on the ground, and at times through the air, for the Cougars this season with 670 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 109 carries in addition to 264 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
Saturday’s weather forecast in Riverside looks different from that of Thursday’s weather in Santa Clarita with little chance of rain and temperatures in the low 60s.
The grit that Canyons has shown all season, even in a parking garage, will be exactly the same, though.
“We just want to show them what we can do as a team and what we can do as a program,” Seymour said. “We’ve always been a hard-nosed, put-our-head-down and go-to-work kind of program and we want to show them that we can go out and do what we want to do.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.