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The Age of Excellence: Cougar confirmation

2004’s big story : COC Football’s national title

Posted: December 23, 2009 11:00 p.m.
Updated: December 24, 2009 4:30 a.m.
The College of the Canyons football team celebrates after its 39-32 victory over City College of San Francisco on Dec. 11, 2004, in the Mineral Bowl in Visalia. The win gave the Cougars the state and national championships. The College of the Canyons football team celebrates after its 39-32 victory over City College of San Francisco on Dec. 11, 2004, in the Mineral Bowl in Visalia. The win gave the Cougars the state and national championships.
The College of the Canyons football team celebrates after its 39-32 victory over City College of San Francisco on Dec. 11, 2004, in the Mineral Bowl in Visalia. The win gave the Cougars the state and national championships.

Chuck Lyon, College of the Canyons’ athletic director, has seen his fair share of good football teams during his 29 years as a coach.

He constructed plenty of them too.

During his tenure as head coach from 1998-2006, he did more than rebuild a Cougars program that had been missing from campus for 16 years.

From 2000-2005, his teams lost just six games in six seasons. They shattered school records on both sides of the ball, produced dozens of NCAA Division I athletes and more than its share of Sunday players.

But there’s something undeniably special about that 2004 squad.

“We were the only junior college football team to ever win 14 games in a season,” Lyon says.

That team featured four JC Athletic Bureau All-Americans. Three future pros. And there was no way they were going to be stopped.

It all came together on Dec. 11, 2004.

Shortly after defeating City College of San Francisco 39-32, Lyon received a call from JC Football, then known as JC Gridwire, which confirmed what he already suspected.

The Cougars would be named “National Champions.”

“We’ve had some pretty exceptional teams here,” says current Cougars head coach Garett Tujague, who at the time was an assistant head coach in charge of the offensive line at COC. “But if you look at the ‘04 team, there was no question in their minds. It was already a done deal.

“It wasn’t an arrogance,” Tujague continues. “It was just a ‘We’ve got this, coach. We’ve done everything. We’ve ran all the sprints and did everything we needed to do. ... What size of rings are we going to get?’”

If it sounds brash, it’s deservedly so.

That year, the Cougars piled up records and wins and unleashed their fury all over California.

But the Cougars didn’t get much respect from CCSF going into the game.

Led by future Cal quarterback Joseph Ayoob, the Rams were a cocky bunch themselves, with a storied program and an 11-0 record heading into the game.

“There was no lack for trash-talking among that group,” remembers Jason Lance, who played tight end for the Cougars. CCSF was making plenty of noise as the teams walked by each other before the game, Lance says.

Lance was a 6-foot-5-inch, 245-pound tight end who teammates called “Shock,” in reference to his likeness to NFL tight end Jeremy Shockey. Both sported a long blond mane at the time.

“I remember (COC strength and conditioning coach Robert Dos Remedios) saying, ‘You don’t poke a bear with a stick.’ Because we had some creatures on that team, you know. It was the last thing you wanted to do to that group,” Lance says.

Lance played Division I football at San Jose State. Justin Tryon, who played safety that year, was selected by the Washington Redskins in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He currently plays for the Houston Texans alongside fellow former Cougar Troy Nolan. Joey LaRoque, who was drafted by Chicago the same year, played linebacker and is currently an NFL free agent. James Paulk played at offensive line at Washington. David Stanton played defensive line at Michigan State. Dennis Ellis, who was next to Stanton on the line, played at Boise State. Offensive lineman James Maddox played for the University of Minnesota. Defensive lineman Tomi Halai went to the University of Hawaii. Marcel Marquez went on to play quarterback at Sacramento State. The list goes on.

And underdogs or no, COC had a tougher path to the championship.

In the northern playoff bracket, CCSF played one game for the championship of Northern California. COC marched through the top programs of Southern California, knocking off El Camino 21-10, then Grossmont 30-0 and then Saddleback, 37-24 in the Southern California Championship to set up the title game.

The Cougars had fought and clawed their way to the Mineral Bowl in Visalia for its December destiny.

Central California football in the middle of winter is usually characterized by bitter cold and a whole lot of fog, and the weather didn’t disappoint.

“The field was mud, and it was so foggy it was hard to see the other sideline. Probably the worst conditions I’ve ever played football in,” Lance says.

However quarterback Cory Miles, who finished the year with single-season records for passing yards (3,127), attempts (386) and completions (229), got things going early and often against the Rams.

“We just knew we had to come out and keep scoring and that’s what we did,” Miles told The Signal after the game. “We backed the defense up, and they backed us up.”

The defense, teeming with talent and speed, helped the Cougars to 20 points off of three turnovers.

Miles found Lance for two quick touchdowns in the first quarter and then hit paydirt with a 1-yard run to give COC a 19-0 first-quarter lead.

Miles would go on to earn the game’s MVP for throwing one more touchdown, rushing for one more and contributing more than 100 rushing and 200 passing yards. He currently plays for the Corpus Christi Hammerheads of the Indoor Football League.

The Rams began to fight back but trailed 19-11 at halftime.

In the second half, Miles and running back Brandon Clayton scored rushing touchdowns to build the lead to 32-11.

Ayoob answered with a 45-yard post pattern touchdown to wide receiver Ruben Jackson, who went on to play at Oregon State.

Miles came right back a few plays later, finding wide receiver Tyrell Smith for a post of his own to make it 39-18.   

Eventually though, the 14-game schedule began to catch up with the Cougars in their finest hour.

Ellis went down with an injury, as did Jera’e Nelson, another talented lineman.

Lyon could see his team starting to show signs of wear and tear for the first time all year.

“As soon as the fog rolled in I thought, ‘Oh no,’” Lyon says. “They took it down and scored, they got the ball back, they scored again. ... I was pulling guys off of the bench trying to find a defensive lineman because we were so banged up.”

The Cougars managed one more drive, but JC Athletic Bureau All-American Jason Tompkins slipped on a field-goal attempt that sailed wide left and into a foggy mist.

The Rams got the ball back trailing 39-32 and marched down to within 10 yards of the goalline before COC, which had dominated as a team all year, was saved by one man on one play.

COC’s Kris Theus, who went on to play at Northern Arizona, was lined up at cornerback with six seconds left.

Across from Theus was Maurice Purify, a 6-foot-3-inch Rams wide receiver who now plays on the Cincinnati Bengals’ practice squad.

“They put their biggest guy on Theus, who was probably all of about five-seven,” Lyon says. “We were banged up. If that game goes two more minutes, we lose,” Lyon says.

Everyone in the Mineral Bowl knew where the ball was going — a jump ball in the end zone.

Theus remembers the play clearly. Memories are all he has left he says, since the tape his dad made is obscured by a fog for the entire second half.

“Ayoob was scrambling everywhere on that last play. I’m doing my best just to jump with this six-three guy, and I just put my hands in there and tried to make the play,” Theus says.

Lyon couldn’t see what happened. The fog made it impossible to see the play’s result.

Then his defense erupted on the field.

The Cougars were National Champions.



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