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Perfection attained

College of the Canyons completes regular season 10-0 with win over rival Bakersfield behind Frias

Posted: November 15, 2008 10:45 p.m.
Updated: November 16, 2008 4:55 a.m.
 

BAKERSFIELD - The fastest Cougar on the field Saturday may very well have been College of the Canyons head football coach Garett Tujague, who used surprising foot speed to elude a trio of would-be Gatorade-bucket dumpers in the waning moments of COC's victory over Bakersfield College.

It took a steady effort from backup quarterback Joey Frias, acrobatic catches by Hayo Carpenter, a trio of field goals from Ricky Drake and timely fourth-down defensive stops to put Tujague in that position as COC turned aside the gritty Renegades 22-8 in the National Division, Northern Conference regular-season finale at Memorial Stadium.

It wasn't a perfect victory, but the end result was perfection as COC now enters the postseason undefeated at 10-0 overall and 6-0 in conference play.

More importantly, the team secured home-field advantage for the first three rounds of the playoffs,
starting with Saturday's Western State Conference Bowl at Cougar Stadium against an opponent to be announced today.

The fourth round would be the final one - the state title game Dec. 13 at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

The key play Saturday was turned in by COC's C.J. Atkins.

With the Cougars protecting a 10-0 lead at the break, Atkins took the second-half kickoff and rambled 73 yards down the right sideline to the Bakersfield 17-yard line.

Atkins said Tujague gave him the heads up Friday that he'd be called upon to be one of two deep men on the return team.

"I was looking at the score going into halftime, and I thought, ‘Just let me go out there and try to make a play for my teammates,'" Atkins said. "I was lucky enough to have a great block up the middle. It gave me a great chance to break it off to the side, and I just tried to do with it what I could."

On the next play, after just 24 seconds had elapsed in the third quarter, Frias tossed a touchdown pass to the sure-handed Carpenter.

Drake's point-after attempt was blocked by Renegades defensive lineman Maurice Hayes, and the Cougars led 16-0.

Bakersfield (4-6, 3-3) countered with running back Bruce Frieson's 6-yard blast up the middle with 9:21 left in the third.

The Renegades executed a two-point conversion as backup quarterback Joseph Maldonado threw the ball to Andre Smith Jr., who did a nifty toe dance to avoid stepping out of bounds. It brought BC to within a touchdown at 16-8.

Drake's pair of fourth-quarter field goals - from 35 and 44 yards - closed out the scoring, and a late-game interception by COC defensive back Zachary Santos sent Renegades fans streaming for the exits.

Bakersfield head coach Jeff Chudy said his offense's inability to convert vital fourth-down plays led to his team's demise.

"There's a reason why they're 10-0," Chudy said. "We did a really nice job of containing the big plays, and that's what we felt like we had to do to give ourselves a chance to stay in the game, but we just didn't convert enough offensively. We just don't have as many weapons as they do."

One such Cougars weapon was Tarvaris Roberts, who made a fourth-and-2 stop deep in COC territory midway through the third quarter that stole away any remaining Bakersfield momentum.

"It was a big down for us, so I just read the offense the best I could, just like the coaches show us," Roberts said.

Frias played in place of Brad McClellan, who tweaked his throwing shoulder in last week's overtime victory over Pasadena City College. Tujague said the decision to rest McClellan - given the fact that the Cougars entered the Bakersfield game with the conference title already locked up - was strictly precautionary.

Frias wasted no time taking advantage of the opportunity. On his team's first possession of the contest, he engineered an 80-yard, seven-play drive that culminated in his own 11-yard keeper for a touchdown at the 9:03 mark of the first quarter.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound sophomore signal caller from El Paso, Texas, was under duress for much of the game due to heavy pressure applied by the Renegades defensive line.

"Bakersfield had an amazing rush attack, but my offensive line was doing the job and giving me the time I needed," Frias said.

Drake gave the Cougars a bit of breathing room heading into the locker room. With Jon Wallace providing the long snap and Nate Jones holding, Drake split the uprights from 51 yards - with ample room to spare - 31 seconds before halftime.

No big deal, according to the Valencia High grad.

"In practice every day, we usually go back about 60 yards, and I usually hit that," Drake said. "So a 51-yarder in a game situation, it's a little more pressure, but every kick's the same to me."

With the postseason set to get under way Saturday, the Cougars hope to see history repeat itself. In 2004, Canyons went 14-0 and captured the state and national championship. A year later, the Cougars advanced all the way to the Southern California regional finals.

But in 2006, the team suffered from a talent shortage at key positions and ultimately closed out the year at a flat 5-5. Last year in Tujague's first season as head coach, the rebuilding began in earnest and the Cougars finished 9-3.

Now the team has a chance to come full circle and potentially duplicate the lofty achievements of four years ago.

As for the water-dumping attempt Saturday, Tujague said the key was in proper preparation.

"There's been a plot for a couple of weeks to get coach Tujague wet," he said. "I have some spies, so they were tipping me off."

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