The home stretch has arrived in the 2010 College of the Canyons Football season. And with two games remaining, the Cougars find themselves in a “must-win” situation with the school’s biggest rivals still to come.
Saturday night COC plays host to Ventura College in the final home game of the season for the Cougars.
College of the Canyons (5-3, 2-1) comes into the game with their hopes of a National Conference, North Division championships fading. Ventura College (5-3, 2-1) has an identical record, but the Pirates have played far more consistent than the Cougars, and could easily be undefeated.
Last week, Ventura pounded Allan Hancock, 48-19 in Ventura. The Cougars are looking to rebound from a disappointing 31-24 defeat at the hands of Cerritos College. Cougar Head Coach Garett Tujague thinks this game will be a war.
“This is what it’s all about,” said the fourth year head coach. “There a very good football team. They could easily be undefeated. They’ve suffered some losses to some teams that, I bet if they replayed them, they would win.”
Most notable of those losses was a 27-24 OT loss to Bakersfield, the current North Division leaders. Ventura’s three losses came by 18 combined points. The Cougars lost by 18 to Grossmont alone. But the Cougars have a strategy.
“Ventura’s defense is very fast, similar to ours, and we have to make them pay for that,” Tujague added.
The Cougar most likely to make Ventura pay for their aggression? Freshman wide receiver Rickeem Jackson, who has come alive over the last two weeks, hauling in 13 catches for 127 yards and 4 touchdowns, all of which lead the Cougars over that time span.
“I’ve just tried to step it up,” said Jackson, who towers over the rest of the Cougar receiving corps at 6-4. “When coach Tujague called my name, and told me he believe in me, he told me I needed to go in and make a difference, and that’s all I’ve tried to do is be a difference maker.”
Echoing his coaches thoughts, Jackson said the key is to make Ventura’s defense over pursue. “They’re pretty aggressive…they have a solid linebacker in the middle (Brenden Daley) who try’s to keep them going…I feel like we have to keep him on his toes and everything else will fall into place.”
Daley leads Ventura with 101.5 tackles, and is second on the team in sacks (5) and tackles for loss (10.5). He’s a player Tujague wanted to be wearing blue and gold this Saturday. “He’s a beast. We recruited him here. He is a football player. So you’ve got to make him a priority.”
Defensively, the Cougars have some holes this weekend. A few key starters will miss some playing time due to disciplinary issues, and star linebacker Khalil Bass is a game-time decision due to injury. Cougar safety Antwan Smith doesn’t see the holes as an issue heading into Saturday’s contest.
“It doesn’t put that much pressure on us. We as a secondary feel comfortable with whoever is up front, and trust that we are going to do our job, and they will do their job,” Smith said.
On offense, Ventura is led by quarterback Antavius Sims, who controls the ball in the passing game, but excels in open space, where his speed can take over games. This season, Sims has 842 yards and 13 touchdowns rushing the ball. Add in another 1,496 yards and 10 passing touchdowns, and the Cougar secondary could be in for a long night.
“We’ve got to contain (Sims). We’ve got to make him pay if he pulls the ball down and decides to run,” said Tujague.
If the Cougars win Saturday night, they could control their own destiny. Wins in their last two contests would assure COC a conference championship. However, a loss would put the Cougars in danger of missing a bowl game all-together, making this weeks game as important any COC will play this year, and Tujague knows it.
“(This game is) critical. It’s everything. It’s the season.”