College of the Canyons wide receiver Andre Hunt hauls in his second touchdown of the game during the first half of the No. 5 Cougars' 42-30 victory over No. 21 Palomar College on Saturday night at Cougar Stadium. —Dylan Stewart/1550 Sports
College of the Canyons wide receiver Andre Hunt hauls in his second touchdown of the game during the first half of the No. 5 Cougars' 42-30 victory over No. 21 Palomar College on Saturday night at Cougar Stadium. —Dylan Stewart/1550 Sports

No. 5 Canyons Wins Again, 42-30 Over No. 21 Palomar

 By Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director 

College of the Canyons quarterback Tooni Ikahihifo tossed two fourth quarter touchdowns and the Cougars' defense forced a pair of turnovers as No. 5 Canyons defeated visiting No. 21 Palomar College on Saturday.

Canyons (4-0) rolled up 542 yards of total offense, the majority of which came through the arm and legs of Ikahihifo, who was making his first collegiate start, and finished the game 19-of-34 for 355 yards and five passing touchdowns. The sophomore also added 87 yards on nine carries and a rushing touchdown.

Palomar (2-2) managed to put the Cougars in an unfamiliar position in the opening quarter, after the Comets forced a Cyrus Zuell fumble and went on to score on their opening drive to take a 6-0 lead. A bad snap on the PAT led to a failed 2-pt attempt. 

The scoring play was significant in that it represented the first time Canyons has trailed this season.  

That scenario proved to be short lived, however, with Ikahihifo going right back to Zuell on the next drive for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 3:44 to go in the opening quarter. Ty Morrison's PAT put the Cougars ahead 7-6.

Zuell was able to shake off the early miscue and rush for 34-yards on the scoring drive, including a big 17-year run, before finding the end zone. He finished the game with 10 carries for 53 yards to lead all Cougars running backs.

Canyons forced a Comets punt on the next series, but the ball hit the Palomar up man and ended up on the Comets' four-yard line. Two plays later Ikahihifo plunged in behind his big offensive line on a sneak at the goal line. Morrison's kick made it 14-6.

As it has all season, the Cougars offense once again showed the ability to strike quickly, needing just two plays to net its next touchdown. This time it was Ikahihifo connecting with wide receiver Andre Hunt for a 52-yard scoring strike. The play started as a screen pass near midfield and ended with Hunt streaking down the sideline into the end zone. Morrison again extended things with his PAT, 21-6.

Palomar got back into the game on the ensuing drive with Comet quarterback Zeke Payne able to string together an eight-play scoring drive, finding wide receiver Dennis Garrison for a 24-yard touchdown that put the score at 28-13 with 3:09 to go in the half. 

That prompted a revival of the Ikahihifo to Hunt connection, with the QB and wide receiver able to hook up for another 50-yard scoring strike, this time up the right sideline on a well-placed ball that floated between two defenders. 

The touchdown proved to be the final scoring play of the half and gave COC a 28-13 advantage heading into the halftime locker room.

Hunt finished the game with four catches for 137 yards and the two touchdowns.

The two teams exchanged punts to begin the second half before Payne was able to get Palomar back on the board with a four-yard rushing touchdown, and ensuing PAT, that cut into the Cougars' lead at 28-20.

A Palomar field goal two drives later put the score at 28-23 with 1:16 to go in the third quarter.

But Ikahihifo was quick to get back to work.

After a 41-yard connection to wide receiver Tiquan Gilmore put the ball in Comets territory, Ikahihifo targeted Zuell once again, with the sophomore running back able to take it 18-yards in for the touchdown. This time it was Andrew Oxlaj with the PAT to make it a 35-23 score.

Ikahihifo tossed a final touchdown, this one going to wide receiver Calvin Littles for 28-yards, with 9:16 to go in the game, bringing the sore to 42-23 after another Oxlaj PAT.

Littles, who leads all Cougars receivers with 17 catches, finished the game with four receptions for 51 yards.

Palomar mustered one final scoring drive as Payne tossed his second touchdown to Tyler Pye with 4:50 to go in the game. But it wasn't enough, as Canyons emerged with the eventual 42-30 victory.

COC linebacker Jonathan Thomas was all over the field on Saturday night, registering six tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass break up. He continues to lead Canyons in total tackles.

Defensive lineman Henry Ikahihifo added a sack and a forced fumble to his season totals, which ranks him third in the state in quarterback takedowns.

Brian Snoek and Dre Falls both recovered fumbles for the Cougars and Julian Salazar recorded his first sack of the season.

The Cougars entered Saturday's game ranked No. 5 in the California Community College Sports Information Association (CCCSIA) poll released on Sept. 22. COC also checked in at No. 5 in the JC Athletic Bureau Head Coaches Poll, having moved up two spots from the previous week. Palomar began Saturday as the No. 21 ranked team in the CCCSIA poll and the No. 22 in the coaches poll. 

Canyons has now started the season 4-0 for just the second time under head coach Ted Iacenda. Historically, COC has started the season 4-0 or better on seven occasions (2018, 2015, 2008, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2000) since the program was reinstated in 1998.

The Cougars will remain home to face defending state champion Riverside City College (3-1) on Saturday, Oct. 2. That game is scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m.

The two programs last met in the 2019 Southern California Football Association (SCFA) SoCal Championship game, with RCC winning and moving on to win the state title.

All Cougars home games will be live streamed to fans on the Cougars Sports Network through a broadcast partnership with SoCalCollegeSports.com. To watch archived footage of the week four live stream vs. Palomar click here.

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.

—Photo by Dylan Stewart/1550 Sports