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College football: Cougars relish one last chance to play

It took a lot for COC to get to this weekend’s bowl

Posted: November 16, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 15, 2012 1:55 a.m.
College of the Canyons quarterback Ryan Kasdorf takes a snap during Saturday’s game against Allan Hancock College at COC. College of the Canyons quarterback Ryan Kasdorf takes a snap during Saturday’s game against Allan Hancock College at COC.
<p>College of the Canyons quarterback Ryan Kasdorf takes a snap during Saturday’s game against Allan Hancock College at COC.</p>

On Oct. 6, College of the Canyons was all but left for dead.

Leading up to that day’s game with Antelope Valley College, COC was 1-4 and on the outside looking in on a postseason appearance.

Cougars head coach Garett Tujague was already talking about shifting gears on the season — giving his freshman more opportunities to prepare for the 2013 season.

Six weeks later, COC is now 6-4 and in the postseason.

The Cougars’ amazing turnaround has put them in the Southern California Bowl Saturday night against Santa Ana College in Santa Ana at 6 p.m.

“Just a great feeling going on right now,” said Tujague. “The lights are still on and they weren’t supposed to be a couple of weeks ago. It’s really easy to start focusing on next year, and we even talked about it. ... But we came together as a staff and said, ‘We can do this.’ And the next step was getting the kids to believe in it.”

The first domino fell that Oct. 6 when COC defeated Antelope Valley 62-61 in double overtime.

The next domino fell when the football team got word Oct. 27 that College of the Desert forfeited its Sept. 15 victory over COC due to the use of an ineligible player.

The Cougars defeated Allan Hancock 47-36 last Saturday to earn the postseason one-and-done game against Santa Ana and is riding a three-game winning streak coming into the game.

“It’s kind of weird how it came together,” Tujague said. “The system we have takes a lot of preparation, but they’ve got to believe. ... I’m really proud of them.”

The work isn’t done, yet.

A win on Saturday would complete the turnaround.

Santa Ana (7-3) lost its regular season finale 57-23 to Fullerton.

Prior to that game, the Dons won five straight.

Statistically, this is a very evenly matched game.

The Dons have scored seven more points on the season are a balanced offense led by quarterback Hayden Gavett’s 1,451 yards passing and Areseo Lakey’s 967 yards on the ground.

COC has been driven all season by the passing game and Ryan Kasdorf, who will likely top the 3,000-yard passing mark for the season in the game.

The Cougar defense has shown the ultimate display in bend but don’t break all season.

Last week’s game was a perfect example — give up 446 rushing yards and 36 points and win the game.

It’s been a similar story with the Cougar special teams — Drew Phillips has been a force returning kicks, Dan Vear has blocked an incredible seven kicks, but kickoffs have been inconsistent, allowing opponents great field position at times.

A major concern in this game is Santa Ana’s defense.

“What’s put them at 7-3 is their defense,” Tujague said. “They fly around. They make plays. They disguise coverages. They try to exert their will on the offense to bring them down.”

Two Dons players stand out — freshman linebacker Marc Millan (five sacks and 16 1/2 tackles for loss) and sophomore defensive lineman Nate Cox (6 1/2 sacks, 7 1/2 tackles for loss).

This one has all the makings of another back-and-forth slugfest for the Cougars.

But these are games they’re experienced in by now.



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