SANTA CLARITA, Calif.-The temperature was as low as expectations were high for Gauchos football at College of the Canyons for the Western Conference Bowl Saturday.
However, Saddleback’s several costly mistakes throughout the game resulted in an unwelcome end to its season as it said farewell to its sophomore players on Canyon’s field with 34-24 displayed on the scoreboard.
Canyon is scheduled to play at No. 1 Bakersfield in the second round of the playoffs Nov. 24.
Saddleback came into the game 0-2 against the Cougars all-time, and ranked No. 9 in the state, dropping from No. 4 after losing at Mt. San Antonio last week, Nov. 10, with a score of 41-28.
It was a bittersweet way for Saddleback (7-3) to end its hectic, yet heroic season, having opened with a 55-0 rout of Mt. San Jacinto and ending with two tough losses on the road in back-to-back weeks.
“We had a good season,” said Saddleback sophomore linebacker Michael Calahan. “Yes, this was a disappointing loss, but I’d say we had a really good season.”
Eighth-ranked College of the Canyons holds claim to the top scoring offense in the Western Conference, with more than 45 points on average per game. It is also No. 2 in the conference in both passing and rushing.
Western conference’s top rusher, Fred Winborn was held relatively in check on the night by the stout Saddleback rush defense, with the exception of a 50-yard touchdown run in the final seconds of the first quarter. He finished with 69 yards on 13 carries.
Despite leading the game in nearly every statistical category, including passing yards with 192, as well as rushing, with 201 yards, Saddleback’s four turnovers killed momentum on key drives, especially late in the game when Canyon lead 27-24.
The Gauchos’ real struggle on the night was trying to overcome Canyon’s defense, which accounted for five sacks on quarterback Sebastian Trujillo and forced several incomplete passes. The Cougar’s defensive end, Jason Pierre-Paul totaled 3 sacks himself as well as a third-quarter interception, returned 20 yards for a touchdown.
Canyon scored midway through the first quarter on a 19-yard pass to freshman wide receiver Hayo Carpenter, his first of two, and it did not relinquish the lead.
Every Saddleback touchdown on the night was promptly answered by one from the Cougars, which kept the lead constantly just out of reach for the Gauchos.
Saddleback did it’s best to keep the dominant Cougar defense on its toes by spreading the ball around to as many different plays as it could. Trujillo utilized nine different receivers for 17 completions on 28 attempts and the Gauchos ran the ball with six different ball carriers.
However, the turnover battle swung the other way for Saddleback, and Canyon’s offense was far too strong to be given so many opportunities. A fumble on an option play in a late fourth-quarter drive sealed the outcome of the game and ended the Gauchos’ season.
“I’ve never been a part of a team that’s come back from harder stuff that we’ve been a part of, on the field and off,” Calahan said.
From the huge comeback wins against Pasadena and Long Beach, to the debilitating injury list including their starting quarterback and running back, to missing a week because of the Southern California fires, to the effects of the career-ending injury of defensive back Jamal Malone from an off-campus incident- This team has rallied together to overcome adversity and ended with a respectable record.