By Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director
College of the Canyons claimed a 17-7 defensive-minded victory over No. 21 Palomar College on Saturday, bouncing back in a big way to ensure it exited Cougar Stadium with a victory.
Canyons (1-2) had started the season with back-to-back losses for the first time since 2014 but seemed to take the field with a renewed sense of determination vs. Palomar (1-2).
The Cougars’ defense pitched a shutout for the first three quarters before a fluky sequence which saw the Comets recover their own offensive fumble, on what originally appeared to be an incomplete pass, and cross the goal line with 14:05 to go in the game.
Palomar stayed in the ballgame a bit longer when Barrett Brennan was able to pick off Bryce Dickson when the COC sophomore quarterback was hit as he released the ball.
The Comets then put together a 12-play drive that moved things to the Canyons 11-yard line.
But as it had all night, the COC defense made a big play to rally its side. This time it was Ajani Smith with an interception and 28-yard return to ice the game for Canyons.
Palomar ended the night with 197 yards of total offense while going just 7-of-17 on third downs. The Comets ran 23 more plays than COC but still lost the possession battle by more than 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, Canyons faced just five third downs in the game and totaled a season-best 343 yards of offense, with 235 coming on the ground.
COC’s offensive line did its job in opening holes for a trio of runners that topped the 50-yard mark.
Dickson logged a 47-yard run on the drive before his interception and ended the night with 55 yards on seven carries. He was also 4-of-7 through the air for 95 yards, the bulk of that coming on a 75-yard scoring strike to Lyndon Ravare.
Emery Floyd, who started the game under center for Canyons, led the team with 64 yards on the ground. Running back Malik Brooks had a long gain of 31 yards before ended the night with 59 yards on seven totes.
Floyd was first to get on the board for COC with an explosive 40-yard touchdown run at the 7:55 mark in the first quarter. The scoring touch was a nice response for Floyd who had lost a fumble on the previous drive.
Those responses, from both the Cougars’ offensive and defensive units, were what helped drive the COC victory.
During the defensive sequence following Floyd’s fumble Canyonsanswered by forcing a quick three and out after sniffing out a fake punt. Three plays later Floyd was in the end zone.
The Canyons special team units were also a key factor.
Asa Johnson booted a 40-yard kick to move the Cougars ahead 10-0 with a minute to go in the opening quarter.
Tony Johnson, who was named the Chick-Fil-A Player of the Game, was especially effective. He pinned the Comets behind the 20-yard line on two of his three punts and averaged 55 yards on his four kickoffs.
Da’Marrie Smith ended with 43 return yards on his two attempts. The Comets also failed to convert on a pair of field goal attempts.
Mario Kljajic was active all night and finished with a sack and seven tackles, including two for loss.
Jackson Volk and RB Wilson V both had sacks in the game. Volk added two more tackles for loss as part of a Cougars defensive front that recorded eight in the game, for a combined loss of 42 yards.
Palomar entered week three as the No. 21 team in the state according to both the JC Athletic Bureau Head Coaches Poll and the most recent California Community College Sports Information Directors Association (CCCSIA) poll.
The Cougars will next travel to Santa Barbara City College on Saturday, Sept. 23 to begin National Division, Northern League play. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.