Cougars claim share of Northern League title, but playoff streak ends at three seasons
College of the Canyons football (5-5, 3-2) won its season finale at home against Long Beach City College (5-5, 2-3), 31-24, on Saturday, to claim a share of the Southern California Football Association National Division, Northern League, conference title.
The Cougars finished in a three-way tie for first with both Ventura College and Allen Hancock College, though the Cougars were unlucky and missed out on the playoffs for the first time in four seasons due to a worse non-conference schedule. COC head coach Ted Iacenda wasn’t too displeased by the process, though, as his team had to battle back from a 2-4 start just to get to this point, winning three of its last four games.
“Ventura had a better non-league record and, you know, who’s to say it wasn’t a lighter non-league schedule, but it is what it is,” said Iacenda, who also picked up his fourth conference title at the helm at COC. “Their non-league schedule was a little better than ours in terms of wins and losses. So, they got the nod.
“I think that [our] team faced adversity and they battled every game. They showed up every game. They showed up every week. They prepared every week. And it could have been, very easily, it could have been a team that decided, ‘Hey, the season’s over. We’re not winning. Let’s just call it a day.’ And that was never the case with this group.”
The Cougars and the Vikings went back and forth on Saturday, with the Cougars ending the game on a 24-7 run to seal the victory.
Freshman quarterback Bryce Dickson was instrumental in the comeback, throwing two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. The first went to running back/wide receiver Malik Brooks to tie the game at 24-24, and then Dickson hit sophomore wide receiver Trevor Girch with 2:27 to play to give COC the lead, 31-24.
“Two amazing throws, and in pressure situations,” Iacenda said. “He had quite a few conversions on third and fourth down in the second half that really allowed us to extend drives and put points on the board.”
Brooks had his best game of the season, rushing for 111 yards on 15 carries to go along with his two catches for 24 yards. That comes after Brooks had only managed 15 rushing yards and five receiving yards in the four games he’d played in previously.
Iacenda noted that Brooks has been moving between both tailback and receiver, and with injuries mounting up for the Cougars, it was Brooks who was called on to be their bell cow against Long Beach.
“He’s a phenomenal talent, there’s no question,” Iacenda said. “We’ve been kind of toying with him at receiver, and I guess injuries kind of took a toll on us, so we’re just like, you know what, he’s playing tailback and we’re committed to it, and he had a phenomenal game.”
Cougars’ wide receiver Calvin Littles led the team with six catches for 43 yards and a touchdown, adding in a 77-yard kickoff return.
The Cougars had to deal with a high-powered passing attack from the Vikings. Their quarterback, Will Madonna, had 297 passing yards and a touchdown to go along with 35 yards on the ground. He was stopped late by the Cougars, though, as COC defensive lineman Esai Martinez recorded his second sack of the game and managed to knock the ball loose after Girch’s go-ahead score, with defensive lineman Reggie Jones scooping up the fumble.
“I think they’re always a high-powered passing attack,” Iacenda said, “and I think once we settled down and were able to get a little pressure on him in the third and fourth quarters, I think maybe he was a little less comfortable in the pocket and caused some errant throws and allowed our defense to get off the field.”
The Cougars now have 14 overall conference titles, though this was the first since the 2019 season. It was also the 11th title since the football program was reinstated in 1998.
Iacenda was coy about the accomplishments being attributed to him, though. His focus, he said, is on getting his players to the next level of college football.
“It has nothing to do with me,” Iacenda said. “It has to do with the players that we recruit and the staff that coaches them every day. It’s more than just me. Obviously, yes, we’re excited about the fourth conference title. There’s no question, that is quite an accomplishment.”
As for where some of the sophomores, and maybe even some of the freshmen, will be playing next, Iacenda wasn’t shy about what he thinks of his players. He’s hoping to see all of them take the next step and is excited to see what places they end up.
“All of them are,” Iacenda said. “We’ll see who is able to and what destination they’ll end up at.”