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Protect his neck

Cougars quarterback Brad McClellan’s frustration sent a message

Posted: December 5, 2008 11:26 p.m.
Updated: December 6, 2008 4:55 a.m.
College of the Canyons quarterback Brad McClellan will need plenty of protection tonight against a tough Mt. SAC defense to lead the Cougars to their first So Cal title since 2004. College of the Canyons quarterback Brad McClellan will need plenty of protection tonight against a tough Mt. SAC defense to lead the Cougars to their first So Cal title since 2004.
College of the Canyons quarterback Brad McClellan will need plenty of protection tonight against a tough Mt. SAC defense to lead the Cougars to their first So Cal title since 2004.
Flat on his back. Three times in a row.

It was the last place that College of the Canyons quarterback Brad McClellan expected to find himself on the opening series of the second half in the team’s 36-27 home victory over El Camino College Saturday in the Southern California Playoff Semifinals.

With the Cougars holding a 16-point halftime lead and looking to put El Camino away, McClellan was unceremoniously sacked three straight times on the possession by Warriors defensive end Kamaloni Vainikolo.

Canyons ultimately dialed in the right combination to turn aside the Warriors and advance to tonight’s Southern California Championship versus Mt. San Antonio College at Cougar Stadium.

But in the wake of the win over ECC, two questions linger like Vainikolo in the Cougar backfield: What happened on that series of downs, and is it cause for concern as COC seeks to capture its first regional crown since 2004?

Vainikolo had a grand total of three sacks in the entire regular season. McClellan said he thought COC’s offensive line had the defender pretty well contained in the early going and attributed the security breach to what was likely a spirited halftime speech by the Warrior coaching staff.

“Coaches probably said, ‘Hey, this could be it,’ and they just sent everyone after me and manned up on our receivers,” McClellan says.

After the third takedown, McClellan, clearly frustrated, flung the football well over the head of the nearest referee, drawing a delay-of-game penalty as a result.

COC head coach Garett Tujague calls it a great life lesson.

“Brad came up to me after that and said, ‘Coach, I just wanted to turn the knife one more time,’” Tujague said. “I told him to just go through the reads and do what you’re supposed to do. If it’s not there, don’t force it — throw it away or scramble and get back to the line of scrimmage. Nobody needs to do anything extraordinary, just be yourself and play Cougar football.”

Canyons right guard Joe Thompson is one of five offensive linemen responsible for protecting McClellan. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound sophomore and All-National Division, Northern Conference Second-Team selection said McClellan’s reaction was a natural one for such a strong competitor.

“That third sack gave them some hope, so I’m sure it was just Brad’s frustration,” Thompson said. “You know that maybe if you put up one more touchdown, a team will fall down for you, but we couldn’t get it done right there.”

That series set up a fourth-and-44 from the Canyons 3-yard line, pinning punter Ricky Drake deep in his own end zone as the offensive unit trotted off the field.

It took El Camino just three plays and 55 seconds to convert the momentum shift into a touchdown that brought the Warriors to within nine points.

“Everyone was mad — the kids were not happy with what happened, and neither was the coaching staff,” said COC offensive line coach Marc Dumlao. “We just brought them to the sidelines and sat them down and said, ‘C’mon, guys, we’re way better than this.’”

Turns out they were.

Thompson and his O-line teammates — left guard Joe Evinger, left tackle Shawn Johnson, center Ralph Curiel and right tackle Louiszell Alexander — fended off the Warriors long enough for Drake to drive home a pair of important field goals.

Then midway through the fourth quarter, the quintet gave McClellan adequate space to deliver the knockout blow, a 60-yard bomb to wide receiver Hayo Carpenter that put the game out of reach.

“They formed a nice pocket,” McClellan said. “I stepped up in there and just let Hayo do the rest of the work.”

Now with top-seeded Canyons (12-0) and Mt. SAC (11-1) set to lace up the gloves tonight in the So Cal title game, one has to wonder whether the Cougar offensive line, this late in the season, can sufficiently protect McClellan against a pugnacious opponent like the No. 3-seeded Mounties.

There is evidence that the long campaign has taken its toll.

The offensive line yielded just 14 sacks in the first nine games of the year, an impressive statistic given that Cougar quarterbacks attempted 250 passes in that time frame.

Then with a shoulder injury sidelining McClellan in the regular-season finale against arch-nemesis Bakersfield College, the Renegades got to backup quarterback Joey Frias eight times.

Curiel said Frias might have been rusty coming off the bench, but the sophomore snapper was quick to shoulder the blame.

“It was mostly on us,” Curiel said. “We just weren’t giving Joey enough time.”

In the Western State Bowl victory over Antelope Valley College Nov. 22, the Marauders dropped McClellan just once, but five of the six sacks in last week’s semifinal against El Camino came in the second half.

Tujague said this late in the season opponents have had ample opportunity to scout his team. And to a certain extent, he conceded, it’s been effective.

“They get enough tape on you, they know what hurts you,” Tujague said. “You have a protection that picks up 95 percent of everything. You get in different situations, and every scheme has a weakness. The more chances an opponent has to throw something against the wall and it sticks, the better off they’re going to be.”

Never one to tip his hand, the 2008 NDNC Coach of the Year offered this evasive gem when asked whether he planned to make adjustments prior to tonight’s title game.

“Absolutely,” Tujague said. “Shoring up some things, taking different approaches to things and messing with players a little bit more than usual.”

Dumlao believes superior conditioning will see the Cougars through.

“There are guys on our team who probably aren’t as good as some of the people we play against, but our kids just work so hard up front that they will wear you down,” Dumlao said. “The game plan is always the same. This is what we do every day — so get a little taste.”


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