COMPTON—It seemed like old times for quarterback Kyle Bauer and wide receiver Stephen Stokes of College of the Canyons.
The pair, former teammates at Valencia High, connected on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Bauer to Stokes with 3:56 remaining for the Cougars to cap a come-from-behind 19-16 victory Saturday afternoon over Compton in a Western State Conference Pacific Division game at Compton.
The victory gave the Cougars (9-1, 7-0) their first conference championship since football returned to Canyons in 1998. It was something that Bauer said he never experienced in high school.
"It feels really good," Bauer said. "I never won (a championship) at Valencia, so it feels good to get the first one."
Coach Chuck Lyon of the Cougars shared Bauer's sentiments after they won their ninth consecutive game—their longest winning streak since football returned to Canyons in 1998—and finished with a 9-1 record in the regular season for the second year in a row.
"You can't take anything away from this team," Lyon said. "To win a championship and win nine in a row says something."
The only matter left to be decided is who and where the Cougars will play December 1 in their fourth consecutive bowl appearance in the four years since the program returned. That will be decided Sunday, when the California Community College Commission on Athletics selects the participants in its 2001 bowl games.
In the meantime, Lyon and his players will use the time to revel in their accomplishment.
For much of the afternoon, it didn't appear as if Canyons would have much to celebrate.
After all, it was a struggle most of the afternoon for the Cougars, particularly in the first half when their offense appeared missing in action. The only points they could muster came when defensive lineman Hausia Faleofa sacked Compton quarterback Chad Munson in the end zone for a seven-yard loss and a safety with 6:13 remaining in the second quarter.
Canyons, which trailed 7-2 at the half, managed only 60 yards on offense including minus-three yards rushing.
"It just didn't go our way in the first half," Lyon said. "It didn't go our way at all and we made some adjustments at halftime."
While the Cougars didn't resemble the team that averages 40 points per game, there was distinct improvement in the second half. That was apparent on their first possession of the half, when they drove 64 yards and scored on an eight-yard pass from Bauer to tight end Leon Pinky for a 9-7 lead.
After the Tartars (6-4, 5-2) regained the lead on a two-yard pass from Munson to Cedric Dawley midway through the third quarter, the teams matched field goals in the fourth quarter and Compton held a 16-12 lead late in the game.
That set the stage for the game-winning drive by Canyons. The Cougars drove 57 yards in less than three minutes. The winning score was set up by a 32-yard pass play from Bauer to tight end Mike Gomez that gave them a first down on the Compton 11-yard line.
Despite the struggles on offense, Bauer said he had little doubt that the Cougars could come through with the winning drive.
"We hadn't been playing well," he said. "But we go over our offense so much, we know we can get it done."
After the touchdown by Stokes, Munson drove the Tartars 53 yards to the Cougar 29 in the waning minutes. But Munson's pass to David Relf on fourth down fell harmlessly incomplete with 28 seconds remaining and the Cougars ran out the clock.
Bauer, who played despite a sprained ankle that forced him to sit out his team's previous two games, wound up completing 14 of 30 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Teammate Jimbo Thomson, who started at quarterback, completed 12 of 15 passes for 85 yards.
The Cougars finished with 247 yards on offense.
Munson completed 23 of 43 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns for Compton. Relf had 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown.