The temperature was as low as the expectations were high for the Saddleback College football team at College of the Canyons Saturday in the Western Conference Bowl. Several costly mistakes by the Gauchos resulted in a 34-24 loss.
Canyons is expected to play at No. 1 Bakersfield next week in the second round of the state playoffs.
It was a bittersweet way for Saddleback to end its hectic season, having opened with a 55-0 rout of Mt. San Jacinto, but having ended with tough losses on the road in back-to-back weeks.
“We had a good season,” sophomore linebacker Michael Calahan said. “Yes, this was a disappointing loss, but I’d say we had a really good season.” The Gauchos were looking to rebound against the Cougars.
Saddleback came into the game ranked No. 9 in the state after losing at Mt. San Antonio last week, 41-28.
But eight-ranked Canyons holds claim to the top scoring offense in the Western Conference, averaging 45 points a game. It also ranks No. 2 in passing and rushing.
The Cougars’ Fred Winborn is the Western Conference’s top rusher on the season, averaging 128.2 yards per game in their first 10 games.
Winborn was held relatively in check on the night by the stout Saddleback 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.
The Gauchos’ real struggle trying to overcome Canyons’ defense, which sacked quarterback Sebastian Trujillo five times and forced several incomplete passes. Cougars defensive end, Jason Pierre-Paul had three sacks and a third-quarter interception, which he returned 20 yards for a touchdown.
Canyons scored midway through the first quarter on a 19-yard touchdown pass hauled in by freshman wide receiver Hayo Carpenter. It did not relinquish the lead.
Saddleback held the lead in passing, with 192 yards, as well as rushing, with 201 yards, but the Gauchos turned the ball over four times and those killed momentum on key drives, especially late in the game when Canyon was clinging to a 27-24 lead.
Every Saddleback score on the night was promptly answered by the Cougars, who managed to stay just out of reach from the Gauchos.
Saddleback did its best to keep the dominant Cougar defense on its toes by spreading the ball around to as many different plays as it could. Trujillo used 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. Canyon’s offense was far too strong to be given so many opportunities. A fumble on a late fourth-quarter drive sealed the outcome and ended the Gauchos’ season earlier than hoped.