College of the Canyons football won its first game of the season after a monster performance by its defense on Saturday.
The Cougars defeated the visiting Palomar College Comets, 17-7, behind four defensive sacks, two forced fumbles and a game-sealing interception.
Canyons’ defense demolished Palomar, holding the Comets to negative offensive yardage and without a first down until late in the second quarter.
COC head coach Ted Iacenda was pleased with the growth his young team showed after two straight losses to open the season.
“Our defense played lights-out, there’s no question, and we had a lot of freshmen playing in the second half,” Iacenda said. “We got freshmen playing everywhere and they’re playing their butts off right now. It was a great performance by them. There’s no doubt we lean on them heavily.”
Canyons’ sophomores Mario Kljajic and RB Wilson both registered their second sacks of the season, while Jackson Volk also added a sack.
The Comets (1-2) tried to spark their offense early in the game with a fake punt. However, COC (1-2) sniffed it out and tore through the one-lineman formation, stopping the run attempt.
Canyons freshman Emery Floyd got the start at quarterback after a solid performance last week. Floyd didn’t have a lot to work with through the air, leading the quarterback to make plays with his legs, and he didn’t disappoint. Floyd had multiple big rushes, highlighted by a 40-yard rushing touchdown. Floyd was initially tackled at the 10-yard line but refused to go down and powered his way into the end zone for six.
Cougars quarterback Bryce Dickson entered the game early in the second quarter and was looking to shake off a poor, two-interception start last week. Dickson completed his first pass for negative yardage but then put Canyons up 17-0 with an 83-yard TD strike to Lyndon Ravare.
Dickson gave a ton of credit to his defense.
“The defense, they got so many turnovers, it really sparked our offense to go make plays and put points on the board,” Dickson said. “That was really important for us.”
Both quarterbacks ran the ball well as Floyd racked up 64 yards on nine carries, while the drop-back Dickson finished the night with 55 yards, mostly from a booming 47-yard run.
Cougars kicker Asa Johnson drilled a 40-yard field goal and both of his PAT attempts in the win.
Canyons’ first-half scores ended up being enough to put away the Comets, who mustered up seven points on a near-highlight play for COC.
The Cougars forced a fumble down the field after a reception. However, Comets sophomore Caleb Armstrong was able to jump on the ball in the end zone to put up Palomar’s only touchdown of the day.
The Comets threatened to score late in the game but once they broke into the red zone, Canyons turned up the heat. Freshman defensive back Ajani Smith broke up back-to-back passes before intercepting Palomar signal caller Clay Omohundro.
“We call it knuckle up and just play Cougar defense,” Smith said. “We just play hard, do our jobs and execute. We did that today.”
Omohundro finished the day 18-of-27 with 147 yards.
Floyd and Dickson shared time in the second half as Iacenda was looking for the guy to put this game away. The two drove the ball down the field consistently but three fumbles and an interception cost the team a chance to put the Comets away early.
Nonetheless, it was a solid bounceback game for Dickson, who was benched last week after two early interceptions.
COC’s defense held their opponent to seven points for the second time in the last two seasons.
“Everything is starting to come together,” Smith said. “Our first two games, I think we were getting our feel because a lot of freshmen are starting on defense, getting used to college ball. We’re coming together really well.”
For Iacenda, growth and erasing the rookie mistakes was the theme of the week. While there were a few errors the team will work on, the Cougars had plenty of things to celebrate on Saturday.
“We’ve got a lot of positives today,” Iacenda said. “We’ve got a lot of young kids that are getting better every week, and that’s the goal. We’re trying to get these kids developed and get them out of here. They’re gonna be on the field and they’re gonna make mistakes, but they’re hopefully not making the same mistakes week after week.”
Palomar will look to get back on track next week at home against Riverside.
COC will aim for two in a row next week in conference play when the team travels to Santa Barbara.
“We open up conference play in Santa Barbara, who is very good,” Iacenda said. “We’re gonna have our work cut out for us. They’re dynamite up front on both sides of the ball. So we’re gonna have to have a good week of practice and really execute if we want to open up conference with a win.”
Dickson will look to keep pushing the offense further and work on execution.
“We still need to execute on more plays,” Dickson said. “We did make a huge jump and coming off this one, we’re getting a huge confidence boost. So, heading into next week, we’ll be alright.”
Canyons heads to Santa Barbara on Saturday at 6 p.m.