College of the Canyons football made multiple defensive stands in Saturday’s home conference win over the Ventura Pirates.
The Cougars blocked a PAT, forced six consecutive punts and held on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter to win their regular season finale, 21-19.
Ventura (7-3, 6-1) needed two points to tie in the fourth quarter after a score from running back Jaylen Thompson. Pirates quarterback Chris Irvin went to his favorite target, Eli Aragon, who nearly broke free to tie the game on a crossing route. However, Canyons freshman Ajani Smith had a step on the pass and came up with the interception to turn away the two-point try. The two fought for the ball in the end zone but Smith prevailed with the ball and the win.
“It was a phenomenal stand, a phenomenal play, we really got some timely stops and that one was the key,” said Canyons coach Ted Iacenda.
Irvin was under fire for most of the game, as COC linebacker Joseph Marsh was one of three Cougars to sack the quarterback on Saturday. Marsh finished the regular season with seven sacks and 15 tackles for a loss.
Ventura was able to set the tone right away with a 19-yard touchdown run from Lamonte James on its opening drive of the game. James was a tough running back to bring down and finished the day with 16 rushes for 110 yards with a pair of TDs.
Canyons (6-4, 5-2) answered right away with a 31-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Emery Floyd to Malik Brooks and gradually pulled away in the contest.
Floyd had one of his best games this season, with over 300 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns on the night.
The Cougar defense nearly held the Pirates off the board for three quarters until Ventura found enough rhythm for a score late in the third quarter.
COC was inches away from putting the game away in the third quarter. Freshman Tony Johnson sent a 40-yard punt back to the Pirates, who were forced to start their next drive at their own 1-yard line. Canyons’ defense forced their sixth straight punt and set up the offense in prime field position. However, a fumble, just outside of the red zone, cost the Cougars their would-be fourth score of the day and set up the Pirates’ comeback.
Ventura felt the swing of momentum, and after several offensive mishaps earlier in the game, the team drove over 80 yards down the field before James scored his second.
The Pirates forced a Cougar punt but again were forced to go over 80 yards for six. Ventura quickly drove down the field and handed off to Thompson just outside of the red zone.
Thompson had nowhere to go on the designed play, leading the back to try his luck to the right side of the line, where he found a blocker or two and marched in for a 25-yard score.
Thompson also had a monster day on the ground, rushing the ball for 130 yards.
Floyd wasn’t the only quarterback to find the end zone. Sophomore Cam Fouts entered in the second quarter, and went a perfect 4-for-4 on his drive, which ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass to another former quarterback, Bryce Dickson.
Dickson finished the game with five catches for 46 yards and was one of two former signal callers to reel in touchdown passes, as Noah Staples, who transitioned to tight end from quarterback, brought in two catches for 16 yards and a TD.
Brooks was dangerous in both the passing and run game. The sophomore ended up being the leading receiver with five catches for 117 yards and finished the night just under 200 offensive yards.
Canyons has had some bumps this season but Iacenda’s group has proved to be resilient all season.
“This is a resilient group,” Iacenda said. “Their ability to fight and keep fighting proved to be the key factor in the game that nearly got away from them. The true mark of a great group is to persevere when things aren’t going the way we hoped. I think you’ve seen we’ve taken strides each week and have built off the mistakes of the last week. The resilience off the charts. This is not a stubborn group, they want to learn.”
COC will close out the season on the road against Citrus College in the Western State Bowl game. The Cougars take on the Hawks on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 4 p.m.
“I’d like to see them have a lot of fun, and finish this game on a high note,” Iacenda said. “Most importantly, I want to see them finish strong in their academics so they can go on to the four-year level.”