A week after being blown off the field in the second half, the College of the Canyons football team is set to open the gates at Cougar Stadium for the first time in 2010. The Cougars play their home opener Saturday night at 7pm, when they host Citrus College.
The Cougars are coming off a bitter loss at the hands of defending National Champion Mt. SAC. The Cougars took a 19-14 lead early in the third quarter, before Mt. SAC scored 20 unanswered points, defeating the Cougars 34-19. Cougar head coach Garett Tujague thinks the team has put the loss behind them, and are now focused on winning in front of the home crowd.
“There’s nothing like playing at Cougar Stadium,” the Cougars fourth year head coach said. “It’s a great feeling. It’s always awesome to be in the Santa Clarita Valley, with all of the support, and it’s just a great place to play.”
The Citrus Fighting Owls have struggled since winning four-straight Western State Conference South championships from 2003-2006. But this week Citrus made it’s season debut in the Southern California Top-20 in the California Community College Football Association Poll. Citrus is ranked 20th, COC is ranked 12th. Citrus won its lone game so far, a 35-26 victory over West LA. Last week, the Fighting Owls had a bye to prepare for Canyons. The game should come down to a battle of Citrus’ offense versus COC’s defense.
“They run some Texas Tech stuff, with some wide splits on the offensive line. That aspect of (the offense) is different than the past,” Tujague said.
Citrus totaled more than 500 yards on offense in it’s victory in week one, but they face a Cougar defense filled with play makers. Last week, the Cougars defense was clearly the best unit on the field, forcing four turnovers and limiting Mt. SAC’s scoring chances despite being backed up in their own territory to start several drives.
“We’re excited as a defense to show everybody what we can do out here (in Santa Clarita),” said sophomore linebacker Khalil Bass. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been and keep a low score on the board…their running back (Brandon Stansell) is pretty shifty, and their lineman are pretty big, but I don’t think they can hang with us.”
Bass had an interception and a fumble recovery last week against Mt. SAC. He leads the Cougar defense with 14 tackles and two interceptions this season. COC’s defense has forced nine turnovers through the first two games, including five in the season opening win against Antelope Valley.
On offense, the Cougars struggled to find the end zone last week. Four times, COC marched into Mt. SAC’s red zone, and four times, the Cougars came away scoreless. Tujague called the statistic “catastrophic.”
Quarterback Justin Arias threw the ball 62 times last weekend, but accumulated just under 300 yards. The Cougars also failed to show any life on the ground, with running back Ryan Zirbel carrying the ball 12 times, and gaining just three yards.
“We have to get the ground game going,” said Zirbel. “We have to keep the Citrus defense honest.”
Tujague took most of the blame for the failed rushing attack last week. “We needed to run the ball more, a lot more…and that falls on me. We had some communication issues (within the coaching staff) during the game, but we have that worked out now.”
The last time Citrus played College of the Canyons was in 2006, and the Cougars won 43-14 while racking up 299 yards rushing. COC would gladly welcome that site back, when the lights go on at Cougar Stadium for the first time in 2010.