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Cougars pass first test

COC tops Antelope Valley College in first game of the season

Posted: September 5, 2009 11:39 p.m.
Updated: September 6, 2009 4:55 a.m.

College of the Canyons quarterback Eric Brown (7) goes in for a touchdown as Antelope Valley College linebacker Chasman Davis (9) pursues Saturday at Cougar Stadium. The Cougars won the game 27-17.

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The College of the Canyons football team took its first step toward a return to the Southern California championship on Saturday, with a 27-17 win over Antelope Valley College at Cougar Stadium.

Unlike last season when their explosive offense carried the Cougars to the title game, the defense was dominant and held Antelope Valley to only 27 yards rushing and without a first down until the 6:55 mark in the second quarter.

“I am so fired up about the defense,” said Cougars head coach Garett Tujague. “They played with reckless abandon. They’re passion and energy was unreal. They saved us tonight.”

The Cougars leaned on their defense due to the youth and inexperience of the offense, which fumbled the ball six times and losing three.

“I anticipated playing better and not turning the ball over as much,” Tujague said. “But it’s all a learning experience.”

Up only 14-9 late in the third quarter, Tujague pulled starting quarterback Eric Brown and replaced him with freshman Justin Morales.

Morales responded by going 5-for-5 for 58 yards on his opening drive, capped by an 8-yard touchdown run on a bootleg to the right with 14:52 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The touchdown gave the Cougars control and shifted the momentum from Antelope Valley, which seemed to be on the cusp of taking the lead.

“(Morales) did a great job,” Tujague said. “He showed great poise and did a great job eating up the clock late.”

Morales, a transfer from the University of Idaho who redshirted for the Vandals last season, finished with 95 yards through the air on 8-of-11 passing.

“I was hungry and ready to play,” Morales said. “I knew I was going to get my chance. I just tried to stay as calm as possible and just play catch, just like in the back yard.”

Brown threw for 148 yards on 10-for-20 passing, including a 65-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Stephens with 8:41 remaining in the second quarter that put COC up 14-0.

Stephens finished with 118 yards receiving on five receptions.

“We needed to prove something,” Stephens said. “A lot of people are saying we’re not as good as last (season). We’re still one of the best teams in the state.”

Although Brown was effective in the first half, the Cougar offense faltered early in the second half, prompting the switch to Morales.

Tujague said that while the quarterback position is up for competition, Brown will remain under center.

“As of right now, Eric is still the guy,” Tujague said. “We might stick with this ‘two-headed monster,’ and Morales is going to have his opportunities.”

Both teams appeared rusty early in the game, mostly jockeying for field position after relatively unsuccessful drives, until Brown rushed for an 11-yard score with 10:22 in the second quarter to give the Cougars a 7-0 lead.

Antelope Valley, who struggled against COC in two contests last season, losing 54-14 in last year’s opener and 41-17 in the Western State Bowl, was paced by freshman quarterback Josh Firm, who threw for 209 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on 17-of-30 passing.

Antelope Valley head coach Perry Jehlicka saw improvements in his team, but still saw places where the Marauders could improve.

“We gotta learn to play four quarters,” Jehlicka said. “We played well at times and played flat at times. When we played flat they took advantage.”



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