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College of the Canyons football stock image from game on Sept. 16, 2023.

Cougars Ride Defense, Run to 17-7 Victory Over No. 21 Palomar

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 after 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 280 yards of total offense while going 10-of-19 on third downs. Meanwhile, Canyons totaled a season-best 388 yards of offense, with 282 coming on the ground.

COC's offensive line did its job in opening holes for a quartet of runners that found succes on the ground.

Dickson logged a 47-yard run on the drive before his interception and ended the night with 54 yards on nine carries. He was also 5-of-8 through the air for 98 yards, the bulk of that coming on an 83-yard scoring strike to Lyndon Ravare

Emery Floyd, who started the game under center for Canyons, led the team with 74 yards on the ground. Running back Malik Brooks had a long gain of 17 yards before ended the night with 48 yards on six 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 field goal to move the Cougars ahead 10-0 with a minute to go in the opening quarter. He also converted on both PAT attempts.

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 nearly 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 six tackles, including one for loss. Jeremiah Alemayehu led the Cougars with nine total tackles, including six solo stops.

Jackson Volk and RB Wilson V both had sacks in the game. Volk had tackles along with aa pair of QB take downs and added two more tackles for loss as part of a Cougars defensive front that recorded four sacks in the game, for a combined loss of 23 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.

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 X, InstagramFacebook and YouTube

NOTE — Updates were made to this story after a series of statistical corrections.

—Photo by Dylan Stewart/1550 Sports