By Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director
VENTURA, Calif. — College of the Canyons freshman wide receiver Trevon Elliott took a fourth quarter screen pass 88-yards to the end zone to help propel the Cougars past conference rival Ventura College on Saturday night by a wild 48-38 final score.
"I made a cut and then the linebacker came down and tried to arm tackle me and I bounced right off of him," said Elliott. "It felt good!"
"That's our bread butter screen right there," said COC head coach Ted Iacenda. "They actually had a (line)backer right there but he slipped off the tackle. (Elliott) did the rest of the work and the rest is history as they say."
Elliott's touchdown came with 8:54 to go in the game, giving the Pirates plenty of time for a potential comeback. But the Canyons defense, led by a standout performance from sophomore linebacker Charles Ike, would have none of that.
The Cougars quickly forced a punt on Ventura's next possession with linebacker Khalib Johns recording a key sack to bring up 3rd and 24, then chasing VC quarterback Dino Maldonado down to force a fourth and long.
"Defensively we got after them in the second half," commented Iacenda. "We made them make mistakes. The defense played great in the second half."
From there Canyons (7-1, 3-0) looked once more to sophomore running back Cayden Dunn who went back to work on the Pirates. Dunn finished the game with 29 carries for a season-high 190 yards and two touchdowns, including 21 hard-nosed yards on what proved to be the Cougars' final offensive drive.
"Dunn ran the ball well, and our offensive line played very well in the run game," Iacenda said.
Dunn nearly had a third scoring play, but was stopped just short of the goal line with 1:49 to go in the game. On its final drive Ventura (6-2, 2-1) got as close as the COC 33-yard line before time expired.
"This is a big game in this conference. We are the two titans of the National Northern and the past couple of years this game has determined who has been the winner of this conference," said Iacenda.
Saturday's win by the Cougars marked the 50th victory of Iacenda's career, which began in 2013. Iacenda is now 50-23 in his time at the helm for a win percentage of .685.
"I was excited about our resiliency tonight," added Iacenda about his team which committed three turnovers and trailed by 14 points in the third quarter. "This is a team that doesn't quit, they don't get down, they don't turn on each other. They rally around each other, they lift each other up and that's a beautiful thing.
"It's a very close group. They have come together over the last two months and really formed a bond and it shows in their play on the field."
Dunn's first touchdown came at the 3:56 mark of the first quarter on COC's second offensive series and gave Canyons an early 7-0 advantage.
Ventura was able to get on the board after a double pass from wide receiver Terrell Vaughn to fellow pass catcher Juan Gaytan caught the Cougars off guard and tied the game at 7-7.
The score was the first of three total touchdowns for Edden, who finished the game 18-of-27 for 381 yards and ran for 15 more. But despite another statistically impressive outing, Edden had an up-and-down first half that included two turnovers.
On the Cougars' next possession VC's Jalen Cooper intercepted a short pass from Edden and returned it 31 yards to the COC 21-yard line. Four plays later Pirate running back Jayden Vargas scored on a six-yard run that tied the game.
Ventura managed to pick Edden off again just three plays later, this time freshman Dom Brown scoring on a 15-yard interception return that gave the Pirates a brief 21-14 lead.
Canyons tied things up once more on freshman running back Cyrus Zuell's five-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter. The play capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive and left just 1:09 on the clock.
Ventura found the end zone again when Maldonado connected with wide receiver Terrell Vaughn with just 11 ticks left on the clock and the Pirates took a slight 28-21 edge into halftime.
"It was important for us to play clean football which we didn't do in the first half," said Iacenda, "and obviously we came back in the second half and fixed some of those mistakes."
On VC's first play of the second half Vargas, perhaps catching the Cougars by surprise, took the handoff and ran it 52 yards to the Canyons 25-yard line. Maldonado then found Mark Ferrell two plays later and Ventura looked to be in control at 35-21.
But the Cougars indeed came roaring back.
Dunn's 18-yard run on first down gave the offense a big spark. The sophomore later took an Edden pass 20-yards to put the ball near midfield. Two key catches from wide receiver Romello Cook set Canyons up at the three-yard line and Dunn did the rest, recording his second touchdown of the game. Brown's PAT attempt was off the mark, however, and the score stayed at 35-27 in favor of the Pirates.
The missed PAT by Brown was the first in the All-American kicker's nearly two full seasons at COC. In his 19 career games as a Cougar, Brown has converted on 86-of-87 attempts, including 83 straight before his third quarter miss on Saturday.
The Pirates nearly turned the tides back in Ventura's favor when Edden fumbled the ball on his own 24-yard line.
VC moved the ball down to the one-yard line before a fumble of its own brought up a key fourth down. The Pirates attempted a 27-yard field goal that the Cougars defense blocked to keep COC within eight points.
"Finally we just said 'okay you have to make a decision, are we going to fold, or are we going to be like iron and hold and not break.' So we had to not break," recalled Ike.
Two plays later Cook made another major contribution with a 62-yard touchdown catch from Edden with 5:01 to go in the third quarter. Brown started a new PAT streak and the Cougars trailed 35-34.
Cook finished the game with three catches for 83 yards.
Ventura later added to its lead, this time with a 28-yard field goal the Cougars couldn't get to that made it 38-34 for the Pirates. But that red zone stop by the COC defense proved vital, as Ventura would not score again.
"It was a team thing," added Ike. "We are better than how we were playing (in the first half) and the whole team came together and we each started making individual plays."
Ike finished the game with 17 total tackles, 11 solo, and had two stops on Ventura's final scoring drive, one coming on third down. Already one of the leaders on a very talented defensive unit, Ike played like a man on a mission vs. the Pirates.
"He's a grinder," said Iacenda about Ike. "He's an old school linebacker and he's been phenomenal for us."
Adding to the Cougars' ferocious performance were linebackers Tyler Richardson and Jonathan Thomas who checked in at nine and seven tackles, respectively. Defensive end Benjamin Seymour added five stops and 1.5 sacks to up his team-leading season total to seven.
Jack Schultz was credited with half a sack and five tackles. Canyons recorded six tackles for loss in the game and limited the Pirates to a 6-of-14 on third downs.
Though it was Elliott's touchdown that proved to be the backbreaker, Canyons actually retook the lead on a 23-yard pass and catch from Edden to Tiquan Gilmore with 10:56 to go in the game.
A five-play drive by Ventura quickly fizzled out, and on COC's next offensive snap Edden looked to Elliott for the explosive 88-yard touchdown.
The Cougars amassed 611 yards of total offense and punted just once in the contest, churning out an impressive 7.9 yards per play.
"Our receiving corps was phenomenal," Iacenda said.
The win against Ventura is the second in as many years for the Cougars, with COC having also won the 2018 regular season matchup en route to a perfect 10-0 record and the Southern California Football Association (SCFA) National Division, Northern League Championship. However, Ventura later knocked the Cougars out of the postseason in the opening round of the 2018 California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Southern California Regional Playoffs.
Saturday's game also marked the first win for COC at the VC Sports Complex since the 2013 season.
Canyons and Ventura entered their week eight matchup tied for the No. 4 spot in the most recent California Community College Sports Information Association poll. COC was also No. 6 in the statewide head coaches poll, as compiled by the J-C Athletic Bureau. The Pirates had been No. 5 in the coaches poll.
Canyons will next host Long Beach City College in the regular season home finale at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9 at Cougar Stadium.
Stay up to date on all this season's action by following the College of the Canyons Athletic department on social media at @COCathletics on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.