It’s hard to believe it, but the 2010 College of the Canyons football season will officially be over in the next 48 hours, baring the longest game in football history. But despite the fact that COC has already played 10 games, the team’s legacy has still yet to be defined. A season that started so promising is left hanging in the balance for one last game.
The game, the Golden Empire Bowl, is the second straight bowl game the Cougars are participating in. That wouldn’t be so bad if this was the BCS. Instead, it’s a charity postseason birth for teams who don’t qualify for the playoffs. The opponent, Fullerton College, is a good one, and a team COC has become very familiar with over the last few seasons.
The Cougars (6-4, 3-2) are coming off a deflating loss to Bakersfield last weekend. After trailing by 3 at the end of the first quarter, the Cougars committed three turnovers in six plays, and Bakersfield capitalized, eventually winning the game 41-14. The Hornets (6-4, 3-2) are trying to rebound from two tough losses. They were a touchdown worth of points from winning their division. Instead, a four-point loss to Mt. San Antonio College and a field goal loss to Saddleback College leave the Hornets on the sidelines in the state playoffs.
“They’re a tough team,” said fourth-year head coach Garett Tujague. “They do a great job up there. Defensively they’re fast. They get to the football and have speed all over the place. And then offensively, they have the conference Offensive MVP at tailback (Kelvin York).”
York will give the Cougar defense nightmares leading up to the game. He rushed for 1,282 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The Hornets also get strong contributions from receiver Willie Downs, who has 11 touchdowns and hauls in more than 100 yards per game. To prepare for the Hornets, the Cougars have held their most physical practices of the season.
“We practiced on our upper field this week, on the grass, under the lights this week, and we put ourselves in some situations where we knew we would beat each other up to get ready,” Tujague added.
For both teams, it will be the final opportunity for the sophomore players to don their team’s uniforms and leave their last stamp on their legacies. For COC, that means the final game for 1st Team All Conference selection Justin Cudworth, the teams defensive captain and emotional leader. While his loss will be immeasurable, Tujague said Cudworth’s impact would be felt for years to come.
“Justin Cudworth is a stud. As a human being, and as a person. He’s left a legacy for the defense to follow. The thing I love about football here at College of the Canyons is you have a number. And you fight for that number, that team. And you can’t hide from it. Everyone see’s your number. And that’s the one thing Cudworth has taught everyone here, is to be accountable and represent your program well.”
This game clearly still has meaning. As Tujague put it, “7-4 sounds better than 6-5,” but expect a slightly different Cougar team to take the field on Saturday. “We have to prepare for next year now. This week is the start of the 2011 season. So we have to make sure we get our freshman some playing time, and as a coaching staff, we have to make sure we put them in a position to succeed,” Tujague continued.
The game should be competitive. Both teams could easily have won their division. Both teams came up short in big games. And both teams still have something to prove. Game time is set for 3pm in Bakersfield on Saturday.