By Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director
No. 4 College of the Canyons improved to 5-0 for the third time under head coach Ted Iacenda, as the Cougars' defense, led by its secondary, controlled No. 7 Riverside City College to the tune of a 41-24 home victory on Saturday night.
COC sophomore Joshua Madison jumped a route on the Tigers' second offensive snap of the game to pick off RCC quarterback Budd Bernie and waltz 10-yards into the end zone, throwing a quick first blow by the Canyons defense. Andrew Oxlaj's PAT was true, and the Cougars led 7-0.
The interception was the first of three on the night for the Canyons secondary, which also added seven pass break ups, as the Cougars' contingent of defensive backs took turns making impact plays.
Riverside (3-2) answered right back, however, putting together an 11-yard scoring drive that ended with a Dean Connors touchdown for the Tigers, eventually evening the game at 7-7.
RCC then took a brief 10-7 lead after a 36-yard field goal from Ricardo Chavez.
After a 30-yard kick return from sophomore Trevon Elliott, Canyons drove the ball 70 yards on nine plays to find the end zone again, this time on a two-yard plunge from Moises Haynes. Fellow running back Cyruss Zuell netted 37 yards on the drive as the Cougars' offense finally started to find its groove with a 14-10 advantage.
Canyons did not trail again, as its defensive unit continued to keep the Tigers at bay.
Riverside drove the ball deep into Cougars' territory midway through the second half. But freshman Allen Smith stepped in front of a Bernie pass, intended for the end zone, and came away with COC's second interception of the night.
The early interceptions by Smith and Madison were first half highlights for COC's defense, in a game that saw defensive backs Dre Falls, Abdul-Lateef Audu and Joshua Christopher add to that effort throughout the contest.
Falls finished with five tackles and a pass break up. Audu got between two passes and added three takedowns. Christopher recorded two pass break ups in the game.
Sophomore Jonathan Thomas led the Cougars with six tackles, a sack, and three tackles for loss. Seth Bullock tied Thomas with six stops to go with an INT.
Saturday's game also featured the return of Cougar quarterback Colton Doyle, who did not play in the week four win against Palomar. Doyle finished the game 11-of-22 for 208 yards and three touchdowns, adding 19 more yards on the ground.
Doyle's first scoring strike went to sophomore Tiquan Gilmore for 72-yards and gave COC the lead once more at 20-10 after the failed PAT.
Three plays later Doyle and Gilmore were back at it, this time for a 25-yard touchdown toss that extended the lead at 27-10, where things stayed heading into halftime.
Gilmore finished with three catches for 108 yards while improving his season touchdown total to six, tied for tops in the state. The speedy sophomore also added a 30-yard run on a reverse play in the second half.
After showcasing its quick strike offense in the first half, Canyons opened the second half with a 15-yard scoring drive, resulting in Haynes' second scoring run of the night. Oxlaj's PAT made it a 34-10 lead for the Cougars.
Haynes finished the game with a game-high 94 yards on 16 carries. Zuell carried the ball 12 times for 88 yards, with a long gain of 29.
Canyons continued its strong defensive effort with Bulluck's interception of RCC quarterback Jordan Barton on the next series.
Barton briefly got the Tigers back in the game in the opening moments of the fourth quarter, finding Lawrence Starks for a 15-yard touchdown pass that cut the lead to 34-17.
Doyle finished his night with a 69-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Littles for the Cougars' final scoring drive and COC entered the final stages of the game leading 41-17.
Barton led a late scoring drive to keep the fight alive, but Riverside, which has now lost back-to-back games after seeing its 15-game win streak snapped a week ago, couldn't get any closer than the 41-24 final score.
Canyons currently ranks No. 4 in the most recent California Community College Sports Information Association (CCCSIA) poll released on Sept. 28. COC also checked in at No. 4 in the JC Athletic Bureau Head Coaches Poll.
The Cougars will head into a week six bye, before beginning the SCFA National Division, Northern League portion of its schedule. COC begins conference play on the road at Bakersfield College on Saturday, Oct. 16, with that game scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m.
Stay up to date on all this season's action by visiting www.COCathletics.com and 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