Canyons Heads To Championship Game

The College of the Canyons Cougars overcame a rough start to post an impressive 52-27 win over host Chaffey in the Verizon Southern California Bowl on December 7th to claim the Southern California Championship and earn their first-ever berth in the California State Championship game December 14th at Bakersfield. The Cougars excelled in virtually every aspect of the game but were sparked by their defense as they toppled the #1-ranked and previously unbeaten Panthers.

Everything went according to plan for Chaffey...for about the first 8 minutes of the game.  Then came the onslaught, sparked by an interception, highlighted by an interception returned for a touchdown and dominated by the COC defense.  By the time the storm had cleared, Chaffey trailed 42-7 and their starting QB had been knocked out of the game.  A late Panther rally brought the host team to within 15 pts in the 4th quarter before COC scored the last 10 pts of the game.  

At the start of the day, however, it was Canyons that struggled.  Mychal Williams bobbled the opening kickoff, leaving the Cougars stuck inside their own 20 when the offense came onto the field.  And the bobbles didn't stop then, as QB Kyle Bauer and RB J.J. Arrington missed connections on the first handoff of the day.  Arrington recovered the ball and prevented the turnover, but only for the time being.  Moments later, Chaffey's Tyron Brackenridge intercepted a Bauer pass at the COC 45 .  

And then Chaffey followed their expected game plan on offense, using the powerful running of RB John Bogarin and the resourcefulness of QB Nick Fotia to take the lead.  A 9-play, 45-yd drive ended on a 1-yd sneak by Fotia, giving Chaffey the lead it needed midway through the opening quarter.

Canyons RB JJ Arrington

Even after a long return by Williams on the ensuing kickoff got Canyons deep into Chaffey territory, Chaffey kept control when DL Juan Montoya anticipated a screen pass and made the interception at the Chaffey 30.  That gave the Panthers the ball, as well as the lead, with just less than 8 minutes elapsed.

But then the tide turned quickly and dramatically.  And in the middle of it all was the COC defense.

Two plays after Montoya's interception, Canyons' DB Eddie Robinson got the ball back for the Cougars when he intercepted a Fotia pass and returned it to the Chaffey 24.  Five plays later, COC was on the board when Arrington scored on a 2-yd run.  Jason Tompkins' extra point tied the game with 4:19 left in the first quarter.

When Chaffey got the ball back, the Canyons defense refused to yield any ground, forcing a 3-and-out, sending the Chaffey defense back out onto the field.

And now the COC offense was ready to roll.  A 43-yd pass from Bauer to Tyrell Smith got the Cougars into striking position, and a 17-yd pass to Trevor Brackett moments later gave COC the lead, 14-7, with 1:25 left in the first quarter.

Chaffey got the ball back, but it was another 3-and-out for the Panther offense.

And when COC got the ball back, they got fancy, using a double-pass play.  Bauer lateralled the ball wide to TE Brian Miller, who stopped and threw the ball over the defense to a wide-open Brackett.  The 46-yd play made it 21-7 Canyons 41 seconds into the second quarter.

Then Chaffey got the ball back, and the COC defense extended the Cougars' lead.  Marte'a Johnson stepped in front of a Fotia pass, grabbed the ball at the Chaffey 36 and took it all with way for the score.  That made it 28-7 with 13:01 left before halftime.

When Chaffey got the ball back, they were able to mount a short drive but soon faced a 4th and 2 at the COC 43.  Realizing that giving the ball back to the COC offense was an invitation to further disaster, they elected to go for the first down.  But Fotia's pass fell incomplete, turning the ball over to COC.  Strangely, the officials spotted the ball on the wrong yardline, giving Canyons the ball at their own 42.

But it didn't matter a bit.  It took just 2 plays for the offense to cover the 58 yards.  The first was a Bauer pass to WR Jeremy Boyle for 37 yards, and the second was a 21-yd TD pass to Smith.  That made it 35-7 with just over 9 minutes left before halftime. 

The COC explosion of 35 points took just over 10 minutes of playing time.  And at this point, Chaffey QB Fotia had more completions to Cougars (2) than to his Panther teammates (1).

And it would get worse for Fotia.  After WR Greg Prator turned a short pass into a 50-yd gain, giving Chaffey a chance to pull closer, Fotia scrambled towards the left sideline for an 8-yd gain.  But the Chaffey QB was shaken up on the play, suffering an apparent shoulder injury.  Backup QB Cheyne Lowe-White came on and completed a 4th down pass to keep the drive going, and Fotia came back out after missing only a few plays.  But after throwing an incomplete pass on a 3rd down play, he was drilled by a COC defender, all but ending the afternoon for him.  On 4th down, Chaffey elected to try a 36-yd field goal, but Jarrod Jakubiak's kick sailed wide right.

COC extended its lead to 42-7 on their first possession of the second half.  J.J. Arrington scored his second TD of the day on a 6-yd run 5:31 into the third quarter.

Then Chaffey began its comeback.  They scored their second touchdown of the game midway through the third quarter when WR Greg Prator got lost in the COC defensive backfield.  Lowe-White found him wide-open and got him the ball, and he broke through a couple of late tackle attempts to score on a 64-yd pass play.  That made it 42-14, which is where things stood entering the 4th quarter.

Chaffey made it 42-21 early in the 4th quarter when Lowe-White found WR Cody Sorensen for a 6-yd scoring strike.  That came moments after Sorensen's first catch of the day, which occured on the first play of the 4th quarter.

Then the Chaffey defense made a big play of its own.  Brackenridge grabbed his second interception of the day, and the Panthers' 4th, at the COC 24 and raced into the Cougar end zone untouched.  The XPA was moved back after a penalty for excessive celebration, and Jakubiak's kick went wide, but Chaffey now trailed by just 15 points and over 10 minutes remained on the clock.  When COC's Williams had trouble fielding the ensuing kickoff and was downed at his own 9, the Cougars seemed to be leaving the door of opportunity slightly open.

But then the COC offense slammed the door shut on a drive that covered 82 yards, chewed 6:15 off the clock and ended with Josh Cummings kicking a 28-yd field goal.  That made it 45-27 and restored a 3-score margin, and left under 4 minutes on the clock.  The key play on the drive was a 29-yd pass play to Arrington on a 3rd down, which not only kept the drive alive but got COC into field goal range.

On their next possession, Chaffey lost the ball when COC's Brandon Botts sacked Lowe-White, knocking the ball loose.  The Cougars recovered, and backup QB Neil Gunn scored on a 9-yd keeper in the game's final minute to round out the scoring.

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