But this win was anything but easy and anything but quick. Canyons took a 24-9 lead into the final minute of the first half before the Saddleback defense dug in and limited the Cougar offense to a single field goal in the second half. And the teams combined for a staggering 112 pass attempts, 52 of which fell incomplete, and 15 scoring plays as the game took nearly four hours.
Saddleback (1-1), coming off a 51-48 loss to Mt. SAC in its opening week, took The Opening kickoff and drove right down the field, taking a 6-0 lead on Belman's 9-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Johnson just 2:03 into the game. But Ryan Steska's extra point try missed, and Canyons took the lead moments later when speedy Tim White took a short pass from Ryan Kasdorf along the left sideline and turned it into an 81-yard touchdown play. Neil Franklin's extra point made it 7-6 Cougars just 4:15 into the game.
Steska quickly atoned for his missed kick, booting a 34-yard field goal midway through the first quarter to put Saddleback ahead, 9-7. That came after Tyler Firestone blocked a Canyons punt attempt, giving the Gauchos the ball at the Cougar 23. Canyons went back in front on a 21-yard field goal by Franklin with exactly a minute to go in the first quarter, making it 10-9.
Saddleback drove deep into Cougar territory on its next drive, but Belman had the ball stripped by COC's Nathanial Lealao, and Justyn Eddins recovered the fumble. Then Utah State bounceback Ben Longshore entered the game and led the Cougars on a quick 4-play drive, tossing a 29-yard touchdown pass to Drew Phillips to make it 17-9. Longshore pushed the lead to 24-9 when he threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to White with 5:31 left in the second quarter.
Saddleback cut into the deficit before halftime, cutting the margin to eight points when Belman threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Exavier Edwards-Ford with 58 seconds left in the second quarter.
And when the second half started, Saddleback got closer still when the defense forced a Cougar punt on its first series of the third quarter. Or more precisely a punt attempt, as Firestone again broke through and blocked Brandon Wikler's kick. This time Firestone picked up the bouncing ball at the Cougar 24 and carried it into the end zone to bring the Gauchos within a point at 24-23.
Canyons answered with another Franklin field goal, this one from 24 yards out with 5:54 left in the quarter, to extend its lead to 27-23. But Saddleback continued its comeback and took the lead less than two minutes later when Anthony Cade capped a 6-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard scoring run to give the Gauchos a 30-27 lead.
Saddleback stretched its lead to 40-27 early in the second half on Belman's third touchdown pass of the game, a 41-yard toss to Chris Simonton with 13:52 left in the fourth quarter. That came after an acrobatic interception by Colten Christensen, who initially tipped a Longshore pass that bounced off a teammate and back in his direction before making a diving catch at the Cougar 25.
Canyons answered quickly when Phillips took the ensuing kickoff and ran it back 90 yards down the left sideline for the Cougars' final touchdown, making it 40-34. The play was all the remarkable as the Cougars had just 10 players on the field. That got Canyons back into the game one last time with 13:37 left to play. And just over a minute later, the Cougars got the ball back again when 320-pound defensive lineman Loni Fonua made a nifty catch of an attempted screen pass for an interception and returned the ball just short of midfield.
But the Saddleback defense stiffened, stopping the Cougars on downs at the Gaucho 28. Saddleback then went on a quick 5-play, 72-yard drive to put the game away, with James Marshall scoring on a 4-yard run from the Wildcat formation with 9:34 left to make it 47-34. Steksa added his third field goal of the night with 4:02 left to make it 50-34 and close out the scoring.
Belman finished 29 of 52 passing for 378 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Edwards-Ford led all receivers with 9 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Cade had 67 yards rushing on 13 carries and also caught 7 passes for 53 yards. The Gaucho defense, which allowed 293 yards passing in the first half, came up big in the second half, allowing just 103 more yards through the air and just a field goal by the Cougar offense. Saddleback special teams also came up huge with Firestone's two blocked punts and Steksa's three field goals.
For Canyons, the quarterback duo of Longshore and Kasdorf combined for 396 passing yards, with Longshore finishing 18 of 40 for 228 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Vincent Neilson led the Cougars with 5 catches, good for 52 yards, while White had 3 catches for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns. Phillips had 5 carries for 17 yards on the ground, 3 catches for 24 yards and a touchdown receiving and the 90-yard touchdown run on the kickoff return.
Saddleback improves to 1-1 on the season and will host Riverside next Saturday. Canyons, meanwhile, falls to 0-2 and must go on the road to play Desert in its next game.
Department of Corrections: Last week, Canyons scored its first touchdown of the game on a blocked punt, which was erroneously credited to Jason Woolley. It turns out the punt was blocked by Dan Vear, a fact that Woolley pointed out to local media following the game last week. Thanks also to Celina, the Canyons SID, who provided visual proof of Vear's punt block in tonight's program!
Saddleback Gauchos 50, Canyons Cougars 34
Saturday, September 8, 2012 - 7 pm - Cougar Stadium (COC) - Santa Clarita
1st Quarter: S - Johnson 9 yd pass from Belman (kick wide left) 12:57 (6-0)
C - White 81 yd pass from Kasdorf (Franklin kick) 10:45 (6-7)
S - FG Steska 34 yds 7:30 (9-7)
C - FG Franklin 21 yds 1:00 (9-10)
C - D.Phillips 29 yd pass from Longshore (Franklin kick) 12:57 (9-17)
C - White 12 yd pass from Longshore (Franklin kick) 5:31 (9-24)
S - Edwards-Ford 9 yd pass from Belman (Steska kick) 0:58 (16-24)
S - Firestone 24 yd return of blocked punt (Steska kick) 12:16 (23-24)
C - FG Franklin 24 yds 5:54 (23-27)
S - Cade 2 yd run (Steska kick) 4:01 (30-27)
S - FG Steska 29 yds 0:37 (33-27)
S - Simonton 41 yd pass from Belman (Steska kick) 13:52 (40-27)
C - D.Phillips 90 yd kickoff return (Franklin kick) 13:37 (40-34)
S - Marshall 4 yd run (Steska kick) 9:34 (47-34)
S - FG Steska 42 yds 4:02 (50-34)
Team Statistics: First Downs: Canyons 26 (3 rush, 18 pass, 5 penalty), Saddleback 22 (5 rush, 16 pass, 1 penalty)
Rushes-Yds: Canyons 28-38, Saddleback 25-111
Passing Yds: Canyons 396, Saddleback 378
Comp-Att-Int: Canyons 31-60-2, Saddleback 29-52-1
Return Yds: Canyons 279, Saddleback 245
Sacks-Yds: Canyons 1-6, Saddleback 1-3
Fumbles-Lost: Canyons 1-0, Saddleback 2-1
Penalties-Yds: Canyons 10-64, Saddleback 15-112
Time of Possession: Canyons 34:58, Saddleback 25:02
Rushing: C 31-Woodward-Johnson 8-20, 28-D.Phillips 5-17, 32-Johnson 4-7, 9-Longshore 9-(-1), 7-Kasdorf 4-(-5); S 2-Cade 13-67, 15-Hawkins 5-37, 41-Marshall 5-17, 8-Dupin 1-(-4), 6-Belman 1-(-6)
Passing: C 9-Longshore 18-40-2-228, 2 TDs; 7-Kasdorf 13-20-0-168, 1 TD; S 6-Belman 29-52-1-378, 3 TDs
Receiving: C 24-Neilson 5-52, 80-Babrick 4-45, 2-Szymanski 4-38, 6-White 3-101, 31-Woodward-Johnson 3-40, 28-D.Phillips 3-28, 21-Drozdowski 2-37, 11-Barnes 2-23, 16-Graves 2-18, 88-Vear 2-13, 23-Washington 1-5; S 5-Edwards-Ford 9-105, 2-Cade 7-53, 1-Johnson 4-60, 9-Simonton 2-73, 80-Krill 2-32, 7-Ela 2-25, 41-Marshall 2-21, 11-Lauderdale 1-9
Sacks-Yds: C 56-Lealao 1-6; S 90-Belnap 1-3
Interceptions-Ret Yds: C 99-Fonua 1-18; S 30-Brock 1-0, 44-Christensen 1-0
Fumble Rec-Ret Yds: C 55-Eddins 1-0; S none
Punters: C 83-Wikler 5-36.6 avg + 2 blocked; S 98-Spierling 3-30.3 avg
Kick Returns: C 28-D.Phillips 3-131, 16-Graves 3-37, 6-White 2-36, 32-Johnson 1-23, 23-Washington 1-19; S 15-Hawkins 4-104, 41-Marshall 2-32, 30-Brock 1-35
Punt Returns: C 6-White 2-15; S 5-Edwards-Ford 4-74, 47-Firestone 2-52
Missed FG: none
Notes: Saddleback entered 0-1, ranked #8 in South and #15 in Calif. Canyons falls to 0-2. Kasdorf started at QB for COC; Longshore entered to start the 2nd quarter; Kasdorf re-entered with 8:55 left. Firestone's 1st punt block set up Saddleback's 1st FG. Lealao forced the Belman fumble that Eddins recovered; COC's 2nd TD came four plays later. Saddleback's 2nd FG came after Christensen's interception. Phillips' TD on the kickoff return happened even though COC had just 10 players on the field. Canyons still leads the all-time series, 3-2, but Saddleback has won the last two meetings. This is Saddleback Coach Mark McElroy's 100th career win in his 14th season guiding the Gauchos.