And then there was one. The fate of the 2010 College of the Canyons football team comes down to one all-important game Saturday afternoon against bitter rival Bakersfield. The game will be carried live on cougarnews.com at 12:55pm.
The Cougars (6-3, 3-1) are coming off an impressive 37-24 win over their other rival, Ventura College last weekend. The Renegades (7-2, 3-1) are trying to recover from one of the most shocking ends to a football game in recent memory. Bakersfield and Cerritos were tied at 21 with one second left in the game. The Renegades lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt, which was blocked, recovered at the 3-yard line by Cerritos and returned for a 97-yard, lateral laden touchdown to shock the conference.
As a result, the Cougars (who also lost to Cerritos) have to win and get some help from Cerritos’ opponent, Allan Hancock, in order to win the National Division outright. A win for College of the Canyons puts them in the playoffs either way, but if Cerritos wins, the Cougars will find themselves away from Cougar Stadium in the first round.
A loss to Bakersfield would send the Cougars to a meaningless bowl game for the second straight season, making this Saturday’s game a must-win in the eyes of the Cougars.
“It’s all or nothing,” said fourth-year Cougar coach Garett Tujague. “Not to put any more pressure on us, but in order to secure our number one goal of winning conference, we have to win Saturday.”
The Cougars face a physical Bakersfield team that will be led by efficient quarterback Lyle Negron. Negron comes into the game with 12 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions, and has also proved to be a mobile threat, rushing for 363 yards and a team-leading 8 touchdowns. Bakersfield relies on two primary ball carriers, Julian Dean-Johnson and Andre Smith, who both have over 400 yards and 5 touchdowns this season.
“I personally think we’re better against a more physical team. Guys that come in and try to beat us up usually struggle, but Bakersfield is a good team and they have every formation you can imagine,” Tujague continued.
The Cougars expect to rely heavily on sophomore running back Ryan Zirbel, who played inspired football last week on his way to 90 yards and a decisive touchdown. Zirbel also averaged a career-high 6.6 yards per carry, and this week, Tujague said Zirbel will see the ball close to twenty times.
“I think I’m ready for twenty carries or more. Whatever coach Tujague asks of me. I just want to help the team win, and if it means we run the ball, then we’ll run the ball,” said the former Foothill League Offensive Player of the Year and Saugus High School graduate.
Zirbel was aided by a healthy offensive line, which for the first time since week two started all five starters. He said that will be key again this week. “It’s very important. They’ve been together all week during practice, and they know where all the blocks are. I think it will be the key to the game.”
The Cougars played impressive defense last week as well. With standout linebacker Khalil Bass out, COC rotated Justin Cudworth from safety to linebacker. But it was former Canyon High School linebacker Justin Stevens who shined for the Cougars, intercepting a pass and returning it for a touchdown with less than two minutes to play. Stevens expects his dominant play of late will continue in Saturday’s showdown.
“I’ve just been trying to step up and put in the effort in practice and the weight room,” Stevens said. “It’s about the overall package, not just what you do on the game field.”
Stevens also said the defense is ready to go on Saturday, and they think the pressure of a must-win situation will only make them play better. “We know it’s win or go home. We have to come out big against Bakersfield. We want the playoffs, and we want a rematch with the teams we lost to earlier this season.”
Kick off is scheduled for 1pm on Saturday. If you can’t catch the game live, a podcast will be available on cougarnews.com, and the game will also be re-aired on SCVTV in Santa Clarita throughout the week.