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Cougars pass first challenge of season

Canyons avoids sting of FC Hornets

Posted: September 27, 2008 10:07 p.m.
Updated: November 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

FULLERTON -- The College of the Canyons football team held on for dear life Saturday night as its defense came up with a big play in the waning moments to preserve a victory over Fullerton College.

COC defensive back Marlon Douglas pounced on a fumble on his own 18-yard line with 1:28 left to play, thwarting Fullerton's comeback attempt and sealing a 34-28 Cougar win over the Hornets in a non-conference matchup at Fullerton Union High School.

Douglas said he wasn't interested in being greedy when he saw the football come loose on a busted play and the game on the line.

"I just tried to make a play for the team," Douglas said. "I didn't want to pick it up and run with it. I just wanted to get the win and get out of there."

And what an escape it was.

Canyons running back Brandon McDonald broke a 28-28 tie when he took a handoff from quarterback Brad McClellan and bolted in for a 2-yard touchdown with 4:41 left in the game.

But when Ricky Drake's point-after attempt sailed wide of the mark, the Cougars (4-0) were holding onto a precarious six-point lead.

Fullerton quarterback Jeff Fleming, who baffled the Cougar defense for much of the night with pinpoint passing and long quarterback keepers, left the game on the final drive when he sustained an injury to his right thigh.

That put backup signal caller Matthew Heady at the controls.

Heady engineered the rest of the drive deep into COC territory before pitching the football to freshman running back Devon McCullough. McCullough couldn't find the handle, and Douglas did the rest.

Fleming, a 6-foot 4, 195-pound freshman, said his team put forth the effort despite the outcome.

"We played our butts off. We really brought it together this game," Fleming said. "We left everything there on the table. Without that one little mistake down there, it's a different game."

The crafty, fleet-footed Fleming finished the game 9-of-19 for 96 yards and two touchdowns. He also carried the ball for 96 yards.

After both teams struggled to gain traction in the first quarter, COC struck first. A 40-yard gainer from McClellan to Hayo Carpenter and Fred Winborn's 20-yard gallop set up a 6-yard touchdown run by McClellan for a 7-0 Cougar lead.

Later in the quarter, Winborn took a pitch from McClellan, found some daylight and accelerated down the right sideline for a 39-yard touchdown.

Drake's 35-yard field goal, out of the hold of Nate Jones, extended COC's lead to 17-0 with 10:58 left in the half.

Fullerton (3-1) finally got on the scoreboard with a pair of touchdowns late in the first half when the Cougars were unable to take care of the football and execute on special teams.

First, Hornet defensive lineman Juan Perez blocked Tyler Watson's punt, and McCullough followed it up with a 4-yard blast up the middle for a touchdown.

Then Fullerton caught the Cougars napping on an onside kick. Fleming, seizing the momentum, drove his team downfield, and sophomore running back Sam Apraku took it in from 11 yards to cut the Cougar lead to three points.

COC settled for a 20-14 halftime advantage when Drake's 52-yard field goal attempt was true as time ran out in the second quarter.

Drake's blast tied a school record -- Jason Tompkins hit one from the same distance in 2004 versus Santa Barbara City College.

Fullerton sophomore linebacker Gary Rogers put Fullerton back in business to open the second half when he intercepted a McClellan pass at the Hornet 46-yard line.

Fleming then engineered a drive that culminated in a 9-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jeremy LaFrance, who tiptoed into the corner of the end zone and made a fingertip grab. It gave Fullerton a 21-20 lead midway through the third quarter.

COC backup quarterback Joey Frias took over for McClellan in the fourth quarter and sparked a drive deep into Fullerton territory. After Frias was shaken up on a hard tackle, McClellan finished the drive. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, McDonald took McClellan's handoff over left tackle for a touchdown.

A successful two-point conversion on a pass from McClellan to running back B.J. Iverson gave COC a 28-21 lead with 10:13 left in the fourth quarter.

Fleming's 39-yard run set up an eventual fourth-and-goal of his own, and he threw a strike to wide receiver Tommy Cogburn for a 3-yard touchdown. The point-after by DeJon Miller knotted the contest a 28-28 with 7:24 remaining in the game.

McDonald's eventual 2-yard run up the gut proved to be the game winner.

COC head coach Garett Tujague said it was difficult to determine what the difference was in the game.

"Fullerton fought for the entire 60 minutes. They just got unlucky, or we got lucky, however you want to look at it," Tujague said. "Our offense had to put drives together, had to score, and they did. Our defense had to come up with stops, and they did."

Despite Drake's errant extra-point attempt, he made a pair of touchdown-saving tackles at midfield after Hornet returners blew past the other 10 Cougar defenders on kickoffs.

Defensively, the Cougars were sparked by 4.5 tackles each from Nick Tepea and Makana Atisanoe.

COC, which entered the game as the No. 2 ranked team in the state according to the California Community College Football Coaches Association, will open National Division, Northern Conference play Saturday when it travels to Allan Hancock College for a 6 p.m. contest at Righetti High of Santa Maria.

COC freshman offensive lineman Louiszell Alexander left the game early in the first quarter with a left-leg injury and did not return.



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