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Cougars united, will face top-tier ‘D’

Posted: October 16, 2009 11:09 p.m.
Updated: October 17, 2009 4:30 a.m.

It wasn’t any one moment College of the Canyons head coach Garett Tujague could name, but at some point last Saturday against Moorpark, the Cougars turned a corner.

“It was a great thing as a coach to see us score 21 points in the fourth quarter,” Tujague said. “Defensively, I thought we played pretty well all night, but offensively, we were able to do some things we haven’t been able to do all year.

“We’ve gelled a little bit as an offense.”

Now, the Cougars face Glendale (3-2, 0-1), which has the Southern California Football Association’s No. 1-ranked pass defense, at 7 p.m. at Cougar Stadium.

COC quarterback Justin Morales will be put through perhaps his toughest test of the season.

COC’s offense this year has been slightly pass-heavy, with the Cougars (4-2, 1-1) netting 853 rushing yards and 1,224 passing yards through six games.

But the biggest improvement that came in the last 15 minutes of the Moorpark game was the reliability of both the rush and the pass, and Morales was a big part of that.

“Justin was able to get some things done for us and those other guys saw that, and they started rallying around it,” Tujague said.

Morales took advantage of a short field to throw two touchdowns in the fourth quarter and put the team up 24-10 at Moorpark.

The Cougar signal-caller then had to shake off his fumble that led to a Raider touchdown. He did and was perfect on the next drive, going 4-of-4 on passing attempts on a drive capped with a rushing score by running back Nick Hale.

Morales and defensive back Kalen Powell earned National Division Northern Conference Player of the Week honors for their efforts.

Powell notched three interceptions, two of them leading to scores.

While experience at defensive back has been a big part of Glendale’s success against the pass, it’s not the most significant, according to head coach John Rome.

“It all starts with the pass rush, and we have some really good defensive linemen,” Rome said, naming Canyon graduate Danny Valdez as an example.

Glendale not only provides an excellent test for the Cougars’ offense because of its stong pass defense, which is only giving up 126.2 yards per game.

The Vaqueros also seem closer to achieving balance on offense than COC, although Glendale’s offense hasn’t been quite as efficient at scoring.

Glendale is averaging 155.2 rushing yards and 138 yards per game in the air.

“We have four running backs that sort of split carries,” Rome said. “We go with the one who has the hottest hand or who’s hitting it the hardest.”

Jorge Chaidez has established himself as the clear “hot hand” of the group, however, averaging a National Division Northern Conference-leading 89.4 yards per game.

While Tujague said the Vaqueros balance makes them a great test for the Cougars, the flu bug has bit the team and made preparation a bit more difficult.

Tujague said at one point or another, 30 “key” players have been out with the flu this week and that he hasn’t seen several players for about three days as a result.

It has created question marks in the starting lineup, and Tujague said it will also give several players a chance to step up.

He mentioned freshmen Brooks Porter and Robert Ketchum as players who have stepped up and impressed with their offensive line play.

Exactly who the line is protecting is still subject to change due to the team’s illness.

Anthony Johnson, a Troy University transfer, could be the latest feature to a running back platoon that includes Hale, B.J. Iverson and Ryan Zirbel.

Tujague said he will continue to rotate Morales and Eric Brown under center.

“We have good athletes and guys who can make plays,” Tujague said. “It’s just a matter of believing they can do it all at the same time together.”



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