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Cougars regroup in thriller

College of the Canyons shakes off poor first half, beats Pasadena City College in OT

Posted: November 8, 2009 12:02 a.m.
Updated: November 8, 2009 4:30 a.m.
 
PASADENA — The College of the Canyons football team somehow overcame crushing fumbles, untimely penalties and a stagnant offensive effort in the first half to claw its way into overtime against Pasadena City College on Saturday night.

In overtime, Cougars quarterback Justin Morales threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Stephen London, and COC linebacker Evan Harrington followed it up with an interception to hand the Cougars a 29-22 victory over the Lancers in a National Division Northern Conference thriller at Pasadena City College’s Robinson Stadium.

It was the second time in as many seasons that COC (6-3, 3-2) upended Pasadena (4-5, 1-4) in OT.

With the victory, the Cougars now turn their attention to the regular-season finale against archrival Bakersfield College (8-1, 5-0) Saturday night at Cougar Stadium.

COC is no longer in the state playoff picture, but a victory over Bakersfield would secure the Cougars a berth in one of the lower-tiered bowl games reserved for teams that don’t make the state playoffs. It will also be an opportunity for COC to hand the Renegades their first and only conference loss of the season.

But if the Cougars are to have any chance against the bruising Renegades, they’re going to have to turn in a much better offensive effort and protect the football a lot better than they did against Pasadena.

What’s going to happen if COC fumbles five times and throws two interceptions like they did versus the Lancers?

“We won’t win, no way,” said COC head coach Garett Tujague.

Morales said the first half was not clicking for the Cougars.

“We might have been pressuring ourselves too much,” Morales said. “At halftime, we talked about slowing it down and just having some fun, getting our swagger back, and we started to put drives together.”

Down 6-0 at the half, COC took its first lead of the game when D.J. Stephens returned a punt 61 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown at 12:03 of the third quarter, staking the Cougars to a 7-6 advantage.

Pasadena countered midway through the third when quarterback Caleb Fore threaded the needle on a 23-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Kemonte Bateman. A two-point conversion attempt failed, and PCC held a 12-7 advantage.

Nick Hale’s fumble set up the Lancers’ next score, a 12-yard romp and dive by running back Anthony Pines. Brian Gonzalez’s extra point extended Pasadena’s lead to 19-7 with 4:15 to go in the third.

The Cougars forced a safely late in the third quarter to draw closer at 19-9.

COC closed the gap to start the fourth quarter when Morales connected with Stephens on a 48-yard bomb to the Lancer 3. Hale took it in on the next play to bring the Cougars to within three points.

The Cougars were driving to take the lead, but Morales’ fumble on fourth-and-1 deep in Lancer territory slammed on the brakes.

COC’s special teams put the Cougars back in business when Anthony Johnson blocked and recovered a Gonzales punt, and Hale later bolted in from 2 yards to put COC on top 22-19.

Gonzalez, attempting his first field goal of the season, tied it at 22 when his 35-yard attempt was true with four minutes left in regulation, setting up an overtime finish.

That put London in position to catch the game-winner on a play that Cougar assistant coach/offensive coordinator Don Fellows drew up as the fourth quarter came to a close.

With everyone looking for Morales to throw the ball to Stephens, the freshman signal-caller found a wide-open London in the middle of the field.

“Longest ball in the air,” London said. “It took forever to come down. I was just hoping to make a play.”

He did, and the Cougars will now set their sights on Bakersfield.

Morales completed 13-of-23 passes on the night for 194 yards and a touchdown. Stephens led the team with eight catches for 132 yards and added another 50 on the ground.

The Cougars’ offense was unable to find much traction in the first half, hampered by a pair of lost fumbles and an interception in the end zone that snuffed out a potential touchdown drive. The stagnant offensive unit converted only 1-of-6 third-down tries and was 0-for-2 in fourth-down conversions in the first half.

Justin Cudworth’s block of PCC place-kicker Nick Luevano’s 33-yard field goal attempt kept the first quarter scoreless. Cudworth was the team’s leading tackler with 10 (five solo).

Pasadena drew first blood when sophomore linebacker Roman Pula picked off a Morales pass and rumbled 29 yards for a touchdown.

Luevano’s point-after attempt sailed wide left, and it was 6-0 Lancers with 7:22 to go before halftime.

The Cougars had a shot to get on the scoreboard before the break, but James Rodriguez’s 43-yard field goal try drifted off the mark.

PCC second-year head coach James Kuk said his team gave up big plays when it counted most.

“The kids, sometimes the pressure gets to them,” Kuk said. “We should have been in a position to put the game away in the fourth quarter. You don’t want to go down to the wire, and obviously you want to perform in overtime, but it should have never gotten to that point.”

Pasadena will wrap up its season Saturday night when it travels to crosstown rival Glendale Community College.

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