Running backs Raphael Reynolds and Fred Winborn each scored on a long run as Canyons won to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
It was a strange game in that Saddleback held the ball for over 38 minutes and seemingly moved the ball up and down the field much of the night. But the Cougar defense limited the damage, and the big plays by defensive end standout Pierre-Paul as well as the offense made sure the Cougars got enough scoring even if it came in limited time of possession.
Canyons took the lead midway through the first quarter, and never trailed, though the win wasn't secured until the final minutes of the game when the Cougars held the ball for nearly five minutes while nursing a 10-point lead. And Saddleback was within three points two different times in the second half. But the Gauchos could never quite pull even with the host Cougars.
Canyons scored first on a 19-yard pass from Bradford McClellan to Carpenter with 7:04 left in the first quarter. That came one play after Canyons' Eric Wells recovered a fumble by Saddleback's Rico Russo on a punt return and made it 7-0. Canyons had also had the game's first scoring opportunity, but Paul Weinstein's 43-yard field goal attempt following an interception by Joey Jurascio was wide right just less than five minutes into the game.
Saddleback struck back with a 9-yard scoring run by Sebastian Trujillo after getting break when McClellan was stripped of the ball and Saddleback's Mike Battisti recovered the loose ball and returned it to the Cougar 25. Trujillo's scoring run came with 1:20 left in the first quarter and tied the game.
But the game didn't stay tied for long. Less than a minute later, Winborn took a handoff, broke a tackle at the line and burst through the middle of the defense for an electrifying 50-yard touchdown run. Winborn, who entered the game with a school-record 1282 yards rushing on the season, made it 13-7 with 39 seconds left in the first quarter. On the conversion, however, Canyons tried a trick play and when a lateral pass went through the hands of Brandon McDonald and out of bounds the score stayed 13-7.
After a Saddleback punt, the other half of Canyons' dynamic backfield duo took center stage. This time the play was an option to the right, and sophomore Raphael Reynolds took the pitch, headed towards the right sideline, and cut back upfield and through the defense. By the time he was finished, Reynolds had covered 66 yards and scored the Cougars' third touchdown of the night, making it 20-7 with 12:58 left in the first half.
Saddleback drew a little closer later in the half on a 31-yard field goal by Eric Carr. Battisti blocked a Cougar punt, giving the Gauchos the ball at the Canyons' 24, with 5:58 left in the half. The Gauchos advanced as far as the Cougar 9 before having to settle for a field goal. Carr first lined up to attempt a 36-yarder, and his low kick was blocked by the middle of the line. However, that play was negated by an offside penalty on Canyons. Given a second chance, Carr booted a 31-yard field goal to cut the Cougar lead to 20-10 at the break.
Saddleback got a jump-start in the second half when Micah Abreu-Laybon returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter 64 yards to the Cougar 24. The Canyon defense appeared to repel the threat when, moments later, Tyler Roby tackled Maurice Clark for a 17-yard loss on an end-around play at the 27. But following an encroachment penalty on Canyons, Trujillo threw a 22-yard scoring pass to Clark on the next play to make it 20-17.
The fired-up Saddleback defense kept the momentum going, holding the Cougars to 8 yards on three plays and forcing a punt. But two plays later, things quickly swung back in Canyons' favor when Pierre-Paul anticipated a screen pass and intercepted the ball at the Gaucho 21. The 6-5 defensive end deftly cradled the pass, started right before turning completely around with a 270-degree spin, and carried the ball into the end zone from 21 yards out to push Canyons' lead back to 10 points at 27-17.
Still, Saddleback had plenty of time in which to rally, and the Gauchos put together a 10-play, 80-yard drive when it got the ball back to again pull within three points. The drive had reached the Cougar 12 before a bad pitchout by Trujillo on an option play lost 18 yards nearly turned the ball over, but Abreu-Laybon alertly covered the ball. And on the next play, Trujillo more than made amends for that miscue by tossing a 30-yard scoring pass to Clark to make it 27-24 with 2:41 left in the third quarter.
But that would be as close as Saddleback would get. And Canyons pushed the lead back to 10 points early in the fourth quarter with a lightning-quick two-play drive that made it 34-24. First, McClellan threw a short pass to Winborn, who broke free for a 45-yard gain to the Saddleback 28. Then on the next play, Carpenter ran under a McClellan pass in the end zone and hauled it in for the score, restoring Canyons' 10-point lead with 10:29 left.
Saddleback put together a long drive when it got the ball back, but ultimately failed to score, all but ensuring their fate. The 10-play drive reached the Canyons 25, where Saddleback faced a 4th and 5 situation. On came Carr to attempt a 42-yard field goal, but his kick was wide right. That drive chewed up 5:08 off the clock and kept Canyons ahead by a two-score margin at 34-24 with 5:21 left.
When it got the ball back, the Canyons offense used up most of the rest of that time and also forced Saddleback to call of its timeouts. A 32-yard run by McClellan got the ball deep into Saddleback territory, and though the Cougars ultimately turned the ball over on downs without scoring, by the time Saddleback took possession the game was no longer in doubt. The Gauchos got the ball back at their own 3 with just 41 seconds left and no timeouts.
For Canyons, McClellan, forced into action after injuries to the Cougars' first and second-string quarterbacks (Andrew Miramontes, shoulder injury and Joey Frias, collarbone), finished 11 of 20 passing for 167 yards, two touchdowns and perhaps most importantly no interceptions. Reynolds led all rushers with 93 yards on 10 carries and Winborn added 69 on 13 attempts. Carpenter hauled in 6 passes for 99 yards and a pair of scores. And Pierre-Paul was perhaps the Cougars' most impressive performer with three sacks in addtion to the interception and return for the touchdown.
For Saddleback, Trujillo completed 17 of 28 passes for 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Abreu-Laybon led Gaucho rushers with 82 yards on 13 carries, and also had the 64-yard kickoff return. Clark led Saddleback receivers with 4 catches for 53 yards and a pair of scores.
With the win, Canyons improves its record to 9-2 and advances to the second round of the Southern California playoffs. In the last 7 years, Canyons has faced Saddleback three times, all in the postseason, and has come away victorious all three times.
Saddleback, meanwhile, finishes 7-3. And superb running back Cheyne Verhagen, who rushed for 61 yards on 14 carries despite injuring an ankle in the third quarter, has undoubtedly seen enough of Canyons, Cougar Stadium and Santa Clarita. Not only were his Saddleback teams eliminated by Canyons both this year and during his freshman year of 2004, but his high school team, San Clemente, was eliminated by Hart HS at Cougar Stadium in the playoffs in both 2002 and 2003.
College of the Canyons Cougars 34, Saddleback Gauchos 24
Saturday, November 17, 2007 - 7 pm - Cougar Stadium - Santa Clarita
WSC Bowl / Southern California Playoffs - First Round
C - Carpenter 19 yd pass from McClellan (Weinstein kick) 7:04 (7-0)
S - Trujillo 9 yd run (Carr kick) 1:20 (7-7)
C - Winborn 50 yd run (run failed) 0:39 (13-7)
C - Reynolds 66 yd run (Weinstein kick) 12:58 (20-7)
S - FG Carr 31 yds 2:06 (20-10)
S - Clark 22 yd pass from Trujillo (Carr kick) 12:20 (20-17)
C - Pierre-Paul 21 yd interception return (Weinstein kick) 8:58 (27-17)
S - Clark 30 yd pass from Trujillo (Carr kick) 2:41 (27-24)
C - Carpenter 28 yd pass from McClellan (Weinstein kick) 10:29 (34-24)
First Downs: Canyons 12 (7 rush, 5 pass), Saddleback 22 (12 rush, 8 pass, 2 penalty)
Rushes-Yds: Canyons 31-166, Saddleback 46-142
Passing Yds: Canyons 167, Saddleback 193
Comp-Att-Int: Canyons 11-20-0, Saddleback 17-28-2
Return Yds: Canyons 108, Saddleback 137
Sacks-Yds: Canyons 5-42, Saddleback 3-31
Fumbles-Lost: Canyons 2-1, Saddleback 3-2
Penalties-Yds: Canyons 9-56, Saddleback 6-35
Time of Possession: Canyons 21:59, Saddleback 38:01
Rushing: Canyons 29-Reynolds 10-93, 10-Winborn 13-69, 7-McClellan 8-4; Saddleback 36-Abreu-Laybon 13-82, 2-Verhagen 14-61, 89-Garcia 2-16, 44-Harris 1-3, 12-Trujillo 15-(-3), 3-Clark 1-(-17)
Passing: Canyons 7-McClellan 11-20-0-167, 2 TDs; Saddleback 12-Trujillo 17-28-2-193, 2 TDs
Receiving: Canyons 9-Carpenter 6-99, 10-Winborn 3-56, 1-Augustus 2-12; Saddleback 3-Clark 4-53, 1-Hawthorne 3-15, 8-Robles 2-38, 83-Wisner 2-24, 5-Hutter 2-13, 36-Abreu-Laybon 2-7, 18-Flanagan 1-39, 14-Tinoco 1-4
Interceptions-Ret Yds: Canyons 91-Pierre-Paul 1-21, 31-Juarascio 1-19
Fumble Rec-Ret Yds: Canyons 44-Wells 1-0, 92-Hollins 1-0; Saddleback 35-Battisti 1-5
Sacks-Yds: Canyons 91-Pierre-Paul 3-22, 52-Byrd 1-10, 92-Hollins 1-10; Saddleback 55-Terry 1-12, 44-Harris 1-11, 35-Battisti 1-8
Punters: Canyons 30-Shigley 6-44.8 avg + 1 blk; Saddleback 48-Knack 5-41.8 avg
Kick Returns: Canyons 9-Carpenter 2-48, 29-Reynolds 1-14; Saddleback 36-Abreu-Laybon 2-82, 21-Ad.Brown 2-16, 2-Verhagen 1-17
Punt Returns: Canyons 15-Masline 1-5, 4-Roby 1-1; Saddleback 35-Battisti 1-3, 4-Russo 3-14
Missed FG: Canyons 32-Weinstein 43 yds (wide right); Saddleback 11-Carr 42 yds (wide right)
Notes: Canyons entered 8-2, #4 seed in South, ranked #10 in nation (JC Grid-Wire); Saddleback entered 7-2, #5 seed and ranked #14 in nation. Canyons' 1st TD came after Wells' recovery of a Russo fumble on a punt return. Saddleback's 1st TD came after Battisti's recovery of a McClellan fumble. Canyons' failed conversion was a trick play featuring a lateral pass that went through 24-McDonald's hands and out of bounds. Battisti blocked the punt; Saddleback's field goal followed soon after. A 64-yd kickoff return by Abreu-Laybon set up Saddleback's 1st TD of the second half. Pierre-Paul's int/TD came on an attempted screen pass. Canyons' final TD came as the second play of a two-play drive after Hollins recovered a Trujillo fumble. Canyons has now defeated Saddleback all three times the schools have met, all in the postseason.