No. 4 College of the Canyons football (2-1) took its first loss of the year from the visiting No. 14 Fullerton Hornets (2-1) on Saturday.
Quarterback Josh Calvin led the Hornets with 205 yards passing and three touchdowns.
Penalties and turnovers plagued the offense for COC, which still nearly won the game. However, the Cougars’ first and last plays were interceptions.
Canyons has been riding high but got its first taste of a ranked opponent and the Hornets gave them a battle.
The Cougars were poised for another great start. The defense forced a quick Fullerton opening drive punt, and punter Luke Mammana lost the handle on the ball. Mammana recovered and gave himself up on the Hornets’ 24-yard line.
On its first play of offense, Canyons set up a screen pass but Fullerton defensive back Salen Streater sniffed it out from the snap. Streater picked off quarterback Chayden Peery and ran back the 76-yard pick six to go up 6-0.
Fullerton kicker Jonathan Fobear later hit a 37-yard field goal to make it a 9-0 Fullerton lead in the first quarter.
COC was trailing for the first time this year and was somehow down two scores. The Cougars struggled to spark early after fumbles from the running back position continued to plague this team early in games.
“This is a good learning lesson, there’s no question,” said Canyons head coach Ted Iacenda. “You lose to a good football team. You learn a lot about the character of your team and what your weaknesses are. We’ll go make corrections and see if we battle back from that.”
After the team coughed up a few balls last week against Southwestern, running back Anthony Spearman fumbled in his first game this season.
The Cougar offense started out with three punts and two turnovers before finally getting on the board in the second quarter.
Peery did all he could to spark the offense with big throws and rushes. He hit Calvin Littles for a 36-yard TD to start the Cougar scoring. Littles waited patiently on a short route and wasted no time getting into the end zone once he got the short pass.
Peery finished 19 of 32 with 287 yards passing and two TDs.
Canyons’ defense wouldn’t allow a second-quarter score and allowed the offense time to find their stride.
A nice drive would get COC down to the 1-yard line but the team couldn’t punch in six. Kicker Ty Morrison hit an 18-yard field goal to finally give COC the lead with just a minute left in the first half.
The Cougars received the ball to start the third quarter and the offense looked ready. On their first play, Peery hit Jacobee Taylor, who brought down the high and tight sideline snag for a big gain.
The offense kept pushing and eventually a Spearman short rush would punch the ball into the end zone for six.
The Hornets’ offense also came out of the halftime break blazing. Special teams and defense were able to put up points in the first half and the offense finally caught up in the third quarter.
The team’s spread attack started working as Fullerton receivers managed multiple big gains on COC. The drive ended quickly, with a 55-yard bomb from quarterback Josh Calvin to Aiden Koenig. The receiver was blanketed in triple coverage but somehow managed to reel in the pass and break away for six.
Peery fumbled on the next drive, setting up the Hornets to start putting up major points, and they did.
The spread attack again worked with receivers finding space against the Canyons’ zone. Calvin found the end zone again and hit a wide-open Jordan Smith for a TD to retake the lead 23-17.
COC cornerback Quentin Moten set up the next score with a critical interception.
“Our defense is pretty good. We played good in the first half, but we have to play four quarters.”
Moten now has two picks in two games.
Peery found Zyon Slade for a 54-yard TD to momentarily take a 24-23 lead but Calvin’s legs and arm kept moving the chains for Fullerton on their next drive. The Hornets quickly jumped back on top thanks to their final TD, a 4-yard pass from Calvin to Will Gipson.
COC special teams make another huge play and blocked the PAT. The team nearly ran the ball back as well, which would’ve made it a three-point game.
“I loved our fight,” said Iacenda. “We’re a really resilient group we never gave up and that’s a testament to our character.”
Jeremiah Cox would come up with a huge fumble recovery to get the Cougar offense back on the field late in the game.
“We have a great group, Chayden is great,” said COC receiver Joshua Littleberry, who led the Cougars with seven catches for 108 yards. “All our receivers are great. We’ve got it going in the passing game.”
Littleberry brought in a huge pass on third and long to put Canyons in striking distance but a game-clinching interception by Hornets’ defensive back Marcellus Gaines put the game to bed.
Gaines picked off a Peery bomb and ran it back nearly 60 yards to just about ice the game. The Hornets would milk the clock and even convert on fourth down with a Tyrell Greene Jr. run to go into victory formation.
Greene didn’t have a spectacular night numbers-wise but his legs and ability to extend runs was a big part of Fullerton’s success.
The Cougars will be away from home for a while, with a two-game road trip and their bye over the next three weeks. Canyons will head to Palomar for a matchup with the Comets. COC at Palomar kicks off Saturday at 6 p.m.