The Cougars football team looks to take down the Ventura Pirates Saturday night in the final home game of the season. Brian Lewis has the highlights. Photographed by Brian Lewis and Cory Rubin.
VALENCIA – In a do or die game the College of the Canyons football team pulled out all the stops on Saturday night against the Ventura Pirates.
With the National Division, Northern Conference on the line Saturday night the Cougars stayed alive with hard fought 37-24 victory at Cougar Stadium.
With a 1:37 left in the game COC linebacker Justin Stevens got in the middle of a screenplay by the Pirates and intercepted Antavius Sim’s pass and returned it the other way for a touchdown to wrap up the game.
“I read the screen, I saw it in his eyes,” said the sophomore linebacker from Canyon High School. “He’s a fast quarterback, but I read the screen took a couple steps back I saw him throw the ball side arm got the ball and out ran him.”
The heavily recruited quarterback, Sim’s, had 3 interceptions on the day while completing 15 of his 48 pass attempts for 228 yards with one touchdown. He also ran 23 times for 64 yards and a score. Fourth year head coach Garett Tujague was pleased with the way his defense contained the elusive quarterback.
“Hats off to our defensive staff and our players, they put together a scheme where they rushed three or four and one guy would have a chance to take a shot,” said Tujague. “We mixed it up and the Ventura coaching staff was reeling on who was coming.”
Knowing that their season was online the line the Cougars came out with a mind set of do whatever it takes and they showed that on the second offensive play from scrimmage. COC came out with a flea flicker that saw quarterback Justin Arias hand it to running back Ryan Zirbel who handed it to receiver Chris Rivas who fumbled it trying to toss it back to Arias. Arias picked it up and threw it down field to a wide open Rickeem Jackson for a 48 yard touchdown pass to open up the game.
“It happened very fast,” said Arias. “I saw the ball picked it up and threw it, it happened so fast.”
Ventura proceeded to tie the game up 6 minutes into the first quarter when running back Dezerek Reed ran it in from 3-yards out. A disciplined COC defense held Ventura to 113 yards rushing on 41 carries. After surrendering over 130 yards in penalties, the Cougars had 4 penalties for 29 yards on Saturday.
“The defense came out with a completely different attitude this week, we knew what we had to do,” said Stevens. “We were able to come out this week and finish in the second half.”
With 4 minutes left in the first quarter, Arias hit tightend Randy Horton in the back of the end zone for 4 yard touchdown giving the Cougars the 14-7 lead. Arias completed 14 of 29 for 178 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Arias also had 56 yards on the ground on 17 carries.
“In the first half we did an excellent job on offense,” said Arias. “Late in the game we started to go to our run game and that really helped us out.”
After a 30-yard touchdown pass from Sim’s to Timothy Vizzi in the second quarter, Sims came back with an 8-yard touchdown run to give the Pirates a 21-17 lead going into the half.
The Cougars came right back on their first offensive drive of the third quarter to regain the lead when Arias hooked up with Alex Fagerstrom for a 2-yard touchdown.
With 7:36 left, tied at 24, COC punted for the eighth time in the game but Ventura fumbled the return at the 12 yard line. COC’s back up quarterback and long snapper Cameron Coon recovered the fumble. Coon also had 3 tackles on special teams.
“What an awesome job tonight, everyone did their part,” said Tujague. “Cam did an awesome job.”
The fumble led to Ryan Zirbel’s 4-yard touchdown run which was the deciding score giving the Cougars the 30-24 lead with 5 minutes remaining.
“It was forth and one, you just have to make a play there,” said Zirbel. “Just cut it up and get in the end zone.”
The Cougars found themselves celebrating there sixth win of the season after Stevens 35-yard interception returned for a touchdown to seal the deal with less then 2 minutes remaining.
“It was huge,” said Tujague. “They played hard, they did a great job of representing us, this community and this football program. I’m very proud of them.”
The Cougars have another must win game this Saturday when they head to Bakersfield for a 1 o’clock matchup against the Renegades. The Cougars must beat Bakersfield and hope that Cerritos loses to El Camino in order to win the conference.