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Big game to get to bigger game

A win will put College of the Canyons in the state’s top contest

Posted: December 5, 2008 10:45 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2008 4:55 a.m.
 
In 2007, three points was all it took for the College of the Canyons to miss out on a chance to play for the Southern California championship.

COC lost to Bakersfield College in overtime 48-45, ending its postseason aspirations and the chance to compete for another state title.

This season the Cougars have already crossed that threshold after defeating El Camino College 36-27 Saturday in the Southern California Playoff Semifinals.

Canyons will host Mt. San Antonio College in the Southern California Championship tonight at 7 p.m.

Last season Mt. SAC was defeated by San Francisco City College in the state championship game 31-28.

The Cougars will look to capture the program's second state and national titles - the first crowns came in 2004.

After a perfect 12-0 start under second-year head coach Garett Tujague, the Cougars are ranked No. 1 by the California Community College Football Coaches Association.

COC also finished the regular season leading the National Division, Northern Conference in total offense and total defense.

"This will be the best team we play all year," said Mt. SAC head coach Robert Jastrab, now in his fourth year. "They are very talented and well coached, and we will have to play our best game in order to beat them. They definitely have a lot of great athletes. It's going to be a tough one for us."

However, Mt. SAC (11-1) is not without its own weapons that put up strong numbers.

Currently ranked No. 2 behind the Cougars, the Mounties are led by quarterback Nick Lamaison.

Lamaison's performance has been a significant factor for Mt. SAC all season. The 6-foot-1 signal caller has impressive numbers, going 241-of-371 for 3,434 yards and 36 touchdowns on the year.

Lamaison followed in the footsteps of former Mountie and current UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft.

"He's been a solid force for us all season," Jastrab said. "He learned from Kevin what it takes to compete at this level, and he understands the offense. But he's still a work in progress."

With the rocket arm of Lamaison, Jastrab said the team relies mostly on the passing game. But behind running back Burton Iosefa, the Mounties get it done on the ground as well.

Iosefa currently has 687 yards and nine touchdowns and has been a significant force in the backfield.

"He's done it all year for us," Jastrab said. "We're more of a throwing team, but when we get the balls in his hands, he's been able to make a big play."

The Mounties receiving corps is led by Matt Austin, who has 57 receptions for 950 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Jesse Canada has 63 receptions for 805 yards and eight touchdowns.

"It hasn't been just one guy," Jastrab said. "Everybody contributes one way or another. It's a different guy every week."

This matchup between Southern California's two best teams will likely be a battle from start to finish.

"There's a reason Mt. SAC is where they are and why we are where we're at," Tujague said. "We have to be able to do the basic things required to win a game. We have to make sure our guys understand the scheme."

Jastrab is aware of the Cougar offensive weapons that await.

Sophomore wide receiver Hayo Carpenter, who has verbally committed to the University of Minnesota, has broken most of the individual receiving records at College of the Canyons. He has 89 receptions for 1,590 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.

But the biggest offensive threat Mt. SAC will have to contend with may very well be running back Fred Winborn. The 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore has 195 carries for 1,370 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"He does an amazing job rushing the ball and scoring," Tujague said. "He's invaluable in pass protection and the best pass-blocking running back. When you put those two together, it's a great recipe for success."

The winner of tonight's matchup will face Butte College of Oroville (11-0) in the state championships next Saturday at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

"We're getting better each week, and I'm happy with the team's efforts this late in the season," Jastrab said. "We're excited for the challenge."

"They'll be ready, and we'll be ready," Tujague added. "We'll throw the chips in the air and see where they land."

wmcneal@the-signal.com


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