Canyons Finishes #1

QB Corey Miles threw for 3 touchdowns and ran for 2 more to lead College of the Canyons (14-0) to a thrilling 39-32 win over defending champion City College of San Francisco (11-1) in the California state championship game at the Mineral King Bowl in Visalia. 

COC led most of the game, but saw most of a 21-point second-half lead disappear in the dense fog that enveloped the valley, and the game came down to the very final play as CCSF tried to win the championship in the final minute of the championship game for the second straight year.

But when Joseph Ayoob's final pass of the game was ruled out of bounds, everyone in the stadium quickly looked through the fog to the scoreboard.  It read 0:00, and the jubilant Cougars rushed onto the field to celebrate their first-ever California state championship.  And after receiving their championship plaque, they were celebrating with their fans when another announcement came.

"We're national champions!"  A euphoric Head Coach Chuck Lyon announced to his group of players, ratcheting the celebration up yet another notch.  It was true; moments earlier JC Grid-Wire publisher Hank Ives had informed Lyon that College of the Canyons was indeed the 2004 National Champion.

"What a great team this has been," continued Lyon, who played for COC in the 1970's before returning as coach when the football program was revived in 1998 after a 16-year absence.  The win not only gave COC its first-ever state and national championships, but enabled the Cougars to become the first JC team ever to go 14-0 for a season.

But it almost got away.  CCSF scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 10 minutes to reduce COC's lead to a mere 7-points and drove to the Cougar 22-yard line in the final seconds.  Then Ayoob threw a pass to Maurice Purify, who had caught the other two fourth-quarter touchdowns.  Purify made the catch across the goal line, but he was ruled out of bounds along the right sideline.  And on the next play, Ayoob threw to Chris Bryant, who also made the catch.  But Bryant was ruled to be out of bounds beyond the back line of the end zone, ending CCSF's comeback bid.

Ayoob, who completed 22 of 41 passes for 386 yards and 4 TDs, was named the Offensive Player of the Game for the second straight year; he also won that award when he threw for 306 yards and 4 touchdowns, including a game-winning pass with 33 seconds left in CCSF's 2003 championship game win over Grossmont.  The Cal-bound sophomore also rushed for 62 yards including a pair of scrambles that set up what would be CCSF's final touchdown.

Entering the game, CCSF had a rather imposing resume.  Not only had the Rams won the 2003 state and national championships, but they had lost only 2 games in the last 6 seasons.  CCSF had won its last four title game appearances dating back to 1999 and had held the JC Grid-Wire #1 ranking for virtually the entire 2004 season.

But COC wasn't intimidated.  "Our attitude was ‘we're winning this game'" said Miles.  And early on, Miles' confidence looked to be very well-placed as COC jumped out to a 19-0 lead.

CCSF took the opening kickoff and drove down the field.  Ayoob ran for 24 yards and threw to Lavelle Hawkins for 21 more to get the Rams to the Cougar 27.  Then Ayoob threw to Ruben Jackson, who carried the ball inside the Canyons 15-yard line.

But as Jackson was fighting for extra yards, in came COC's Troy Nolan, who ripped the ball out of the CCSF receiver's hands.  And COC's Jera'e Nelson fell on the ball at the 13, keeping the game scoreless and giving the Cougars possession.

From then on, for most of the rest of the first half, things just seemed to go the Cougars' way.  Miles got things started by throwing to big TE Jason Lance for 10 yards and a first down.  But what happened on the very next play was even bigger; Miles kept the ball and carried for a 37-yard gain.  Miles would end up carrying the ball 18 times on the game for 74 yards, surpassing his previous total of 72 yards rushing for the entire season.  Most of those yards came on quarterback keepers like the play that gained 37 yards.

"They just kept biting, so I just kept calling it" Miles said of the option play that became a staple of the COC offense. 

But COC also pulled out some trick plays, such as a hook-and-lateral featuring Tyrell Smith and Will Caldwell that netted 19 yards on that first drive.  And Caldwell flared out on a halfback option play moments later, though he wisely elected not to throw the ball to the covered receiver downfield. 

After another run by Miles that gained 6 yards, COC got on the board when Miles threw a 15-yard TD pass to Jason Lance.  Lance would end the day as COC's leading receiver with 6 catches for 93 yards and 2 TDs, all in the first half.  But COC had to settle for a 6-0 lead when the muddy field played havoc with the snap, hold and kick on their ill-fated extra point try.  The ball skidded through the line and below the goal posts.

Still, COC had a lead.  And the COC defense dug in on CCSF's ensuing possession, forcing a punt after allowing just 3 yards on 3 plays.  Then, when COC got the ball, they again moved methodically down the field.  Miles passed to Lance again and again, connecting 3 times for 53 yards on the drive.  The last of these was a 26-yard TD pass that gave COC a 12-0 lead.  The Cougars elected to try for a 2-point conversion, but Miles' pass towards a covered receiver went over the back line, keeping the score 12-0.

CCSF put together a bit of a drive on their next possession, moving the ball to the Cougar 40 on the strong running of Dallas Bernstine.  But then Ayoob went to the air, throwing a pass towards Curtis Grant in the left corner of the end zone.  And when the ball came down, COC's Ja'Vonte Holmes wrestled the ball away from Grant for the interception.

COC drove to midfield on that possession when Miles went back to pass.  He was tackled by CCSF's Bryan Gabourel, who knocked the ball loose.  Philip Humphrey appeared to have a golden opportunity to recover the ball for the Rams, but COC's Juan Sanchez managed to wrestle the ball away from him.  (Or so the officials ruled – CCSF's Todd Beck was assessed a 15-yard penalty for arguing the call).  Nonetheless the drive soon stalled anyway and COC was forced to punt.  But even that ended up going COC's way as return man Jackson muffed Andrew Kearney's punt, and Nate Whittier recovered for the Cougars at the CCSF 12-yard line.  Four plays later, Miles scored on a quarterback sneak from 1 yard out.  Jason Tompkins' extra point was good this time, and the Cougars had a 19-0 lead with 9:59 left in the second quarter.

Perhaps the Rams were surprised by their early deficit, but they were anything but stunned.  And when they got the ball back, they embarked on a 13-play drive that would eat up nearly 6 minutes off the clock and help turn the momentum of the game their way.  But even this drive would hold frustration for CCSF and Jackson, as two separate touchdowns by Jackson would be called back on penalties.  And though CCSF finally got on the board, they would have to settle for a short field goal by John Abrams. 

After a 16-yard pass from Ayoob to Purify got the Rams near midfield, Ayoob went for the long pass to Jackson.  However, as Jackson caught the ball and crossed the goal line, all eyes turned to the penalty flag on the field, which would negate that score.  Then after Jackson caught a 16-yard pass and a personal foul penalty was enforced against COC, the Rams had the ball at the Cougar 18.  A 12-yard run by Bernstine gave CCSF first and goal.  Again, Ayoob threw to Jackson for an apparent touchdown, but again there was a flag on the field, negating the score.  Finally, on 4th and goal from the 8, CCSF settled for Abrams' field goal to cut the margin to 19-3.

But the drive not only got CCSF on the board, it appeared to give them the momentum.  COC punted without gaining a first down – actually, they punted twice after the first one was negated by a penalty – giving CCSF the ball at their own 37.  After an incomplete pass, a 9-yard toss to Hawkins and a 2-yard run by Ayoob, the Rams went for the long ball.  And Ayoob threw a beautiful arcing pass down the right sideline that Jackson caught right in stride for a 52-yard TD pass.  On the conversion, Ayoob threw to Purify in the corner of the end zone to make it a 1-score game at 19-11 at the half.

When the second half began, however, COC quickly reversed the momentum.  Miles began by throwing to T. Smith for 17 yards, and followed that with an 8-yard run of his own.  After personal foul penalty on CCSF moved the ball to the 19, Miles handed off to Caldwell for 5 more yards.  On the next play, COC's third running back, Brandon Clayton, got the ball for the first time.  And he took it the distance for a 14-yard TD run to make it 26-11 and restore some order for COC.

And the COC defense also restored order, forcing a CCSF punt without allowing a first down.  Angelo Jeffery's kick was downed at the CCSF 44, giving the Cougars excellent field position, and COC cashed in quickly to extend their lead.  A 9-yard pass to Billy Omahen got the ball to the 32, and a 12-yard pass to Chad Garrett moved the Cougars to the 20.  After another penalty on CCSF, the ball was at the 10-yard line.  Three plays later, Miles scored his second TD of the game on a 4-yard run to push COC's lead to 21 at 32-11 midway through the third quarter.

That margin basically forced CCSF to abandon the running game, except for Ayoob's scrambles.  But going to the passing game doesn't exactly weaken the Ram offense, as Ayoob would prove.  A pair of short passes to Hawkins got CCSF across midfield, and then Ayoob threw a dart across the middle for Jackson.  The CCSF standout made a dazzling fingertip catch as he crossed the middle of the field, then sprinted to the right sideline and into the end zone for a highlight-reel touchdown play. 

When COC got the ball, they managed to drive to midfield before having to punt.  But on the very next play, Ayoob overthrew a receiver along the right sideline and COC's Billy Maria made a diving catch for the interception.  It was the second interception of the game for Ayoob, who had thrown only 6 all season before Saturday.  And COC cashed in quickly when Miles threw his third TD pass of the game, this one a 15-yarder to Smith, to give COC a 39-18 lead with 13:35 left in the game.

But as NBA coach Rudy Tomjanovich (then with the Rockets, now with the Lakers) is famous for saying, "Never underestimate the heart of a champion."  CCSF might have been down, but they weren't about to go out without a fight.

When CCSF got the ball back, trailing by 21 points in the fourth quarter, there was no more margin for error.  But the Rams responded to the challenge, driving for a score to cut into the deficit.  Despite a costly offensive pass interference call that nearly derailed the drive near midfield, CCSF covered 76 yards on 11 plays to make it 39-25 on Ayoob's 9-yard pass to Purify with 9:45 left.

As the fog got thicker and the air got colder, COC needed just one more score to regain control.  And they needed to work on the clock.  They did the latter to perfection, embarking on a 12-play drive that chewed up over six minutes.  The strong running of Clayton kept moving the first down sticks while keeping the clock moving.  And when the drive finally stalled at the 14, on came Tompkins for a 31-yard field goal that would all but clinch the win for Canyons.  The strong-legged Tompkins is just about a sure thing kicking off the field turf at Cougar Stadium.

But this wasn't Cougar Stadium, and the field was anything but turf.  More like a quagmire, actually.  There were few blades of grass on the field, and those that were there were brown and buried in the mud.  And on the kick, Tompkins slipped a bit (as he had on the two extra point attempts) and his kick went wide left, keeping it 39-25.

So CCSF had hope.  They still trailed by 14 points with only 3:26 to play, but at least they had the ball and still trailed by only two scores.  With Ayoob at the controls, it seemed quite plausible that the Rams could rally.

The first touchdown drive happened quickly.  A 24-yard pass to Grant got the Rams across midfield after a 10-yard towss to Jackson had gotten things started.  COC was only rushing 3 linemen, partly because Dennis Ellis was injured in the second quarter and partly because they had such a big lead.  But the soft coverage allowed Ayoob to scramble, and even when he couldn't find an open receiver, he had plenty of room to run.  He gained 17 yards on the next play, and 13 more on the play after that to give CCSF a first down at the 11.  On the next play, Ayoob threw to Purify in the left corner of the end zone on a play nearly identical to the one on which Purify had scored CCSF's third touchdown earlier in the quarter.  Abrams' kick made it 39-32 with 2:27 left on the clock.

COC lined up expecting an onsides kick, but CCSF (which still had all 3 timeouts left) elected to kick the ball medium-deep.  COC's Billy Omahen recovered the ball at the 30.  Then the Cougars tried to run out the clock, aware that just a single first down would probably clinch the win.  Clayton gained 5 yards on first down.  But he only gained 1 yard on second down, forcing a 3rd and 4.  On third down, COC kept the ball on the ground, forcing CCSF to use its final timeout.  But Clayton gained just 2 yards, forcing a punt.  On came Kearney, whose kick traveled 32 yards before coming to rest at the Ram 30-yard line.  The clock showed 1:57.

CCSF had faced a similar situation in the 2003 title game, trailing by 4 points in the final minutes and needing to drive 95 yards for a touchdown.  Ayoob had come though in that situation, combining with Jackson on a touchdown pass that gave CCSF a comeback win and the championship. 

At first, it looked like COC might stop the drive before it really started.  Ayoob's first pass was intended for Jackson, but fell incomplete.  His second, also intended for Jackson, also fell incomplete.  And on third down, Ayoob was sacked by COC's David Stanton for a 6-yard loss.  The Rams faced 4th and 16 with their season on the line and the clock running.

But Ayoob came through, finding Purify for a 22-yard gain on a pass up the middle.  Then a pass intended for Hawkins fell incomplete, but at least that stopped the clock.  Ayoob's next throw was to Jackson for 7 yards.  Then Ayoob threw again to Jackson, this time for 9 yards and a first down at the COC 38.  But time was winding down.  Then came a 16-yard pass to Grant that got the ball to the 22 for another first down.

On the next play, Ayoob threw towards Purify in the end zone near the right sideline.  Purify jumped into the air and made the catch, but came down just out of bounds.  The clock showed 9 seconds left.

And on the game's final play, Ayoob dropped back to pass.  Facing some pressure, he scrambled in the backfield in search of a receiver.  Finally, he threw the ball to the back of the end zone.  Receiver Chris Bryant, who had just entered the game due to an injury to Grant, leaped for the ball.  He made the catch.  But as he hit the ground, the officials signaled that he too was out of bounds. 

The pass was incomplete.  And the Cougars were the champions.

It was an incredible game featuring two extraordinary teams.  For the second straight year, a battle of undefeated teams went down to the final play and proved to be a most memorable game. 

For COC, Cory Miles had a remarkably efficient game, going 18 of 23 for 226 yards and 3 TDs passing while also rushing for 74 yards and 2 TDs.  Jason Lance led Cougar receivers with 6 catches for 93 yards and 2 TDs, while Tyrell Smith added 5 catches for 42 yards and a score.  Brandon Clayton rushed for 74 yards and a TD, all in the second half.  And on defense, there were a host of standouts but none more visible than Tomi Halai, who constantly pressured Ayoob and was named the Defensive Player of the Game.  Jerrod Perry played a great game with 13 tackles, and showed a lot of heart staying on the field despite an obvious leg injury in the final minutes. 

For CCSF, Ayoob was both marvelous and courageous, passing for 386 yards and 4 TDs and rushing for 62 yards depite being knocked down repeatedly, especially in the first half.  And he also led the big comeback, which came within the smallest of margins of winning another championship for CCSF.  The marvelously-talented Jackson had a bit of a star-crossed day, catching 9 passes for 178 yards and 2 TDs but also losing 2 fumbles.  He also had 2 TDs called back, or he'd have had an even bigger day.  And big Maurice Purify (CCSF's 6-5 receiver) had a big game with 4 catches for 69 yards and 2 fourth-quarter touchdowns as well as a catch for a 2-point conversion.

All in all, it was a great game between two great teams.  But in the end, it was the Cougars of College of the Canyons who prevailed, and they are the California and national champions for 2004.

SCORING SUMMARY

1st Quarter:
C – Lance 15 yard pass from Miles (kick blocked) 9:10 -- 6-0
C – Lance 26 yard pass from Miles (pass failed) 3:48 -- 12-0      

2nd Quarter:
C – Miles 1 yard run (Tompkins kick) 9:59 -- 19-0
SF – FG Abrams 24 yards 4:16 -- 19-3
SF – Jackson 52 yard pass from Ayoob (Purify pass from Ayoob) 1:12 -- 19-11 

3rd Quarter:
C – Clayton 14 yard run (Tompkins kick) 13:12 -- 26-11
C – Miles 4 yard run (kick blocked) 9:07 -- 32-11
SF – Jackson 46 yard pass from Ayoob (Abrams kick) 6:48 -- 32-18

4th Quarter:
C – T.Smith 15 yard pass from Miles (Tompkins kick) 13:35 -- 39-18
SF – Purify 9 yard pass from Ayoob (Abrams kick) 9:45 -- 39-25
SF – Purify 11 yard pass from Ayoob (Abrams kick) 2:27 -- 39-32 

Team Statistics: Canyons San Francisco
First Downs 26 (12 run; 11 pass; 3 penalty) 28 (8 run; 17 pass; 3 penalty)
Rushes – Yards 53-218 22-122 
Passing Yards 226 386
Comp - Att – Int 18-23-0 22-41-2
Return Yards 89 97
Sacks – Yards 1-6 2-30
Fumbles – Lost 2-0 2-2
Penalties – Yards 16-159 11-113
Time of Possession 36:03 23:57

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing:  C:  24-Clayton 14-74, 8-Miles 18-74, 30-Cain 10-49, 29-Caldwell 8-20, 4-Marquez 3-1 SF:  18-Ayoob 7-62, 12-Bernstine 13-52, 6-Hawkins 2-12

Passing: C:  8-Miles 18-23-0-226, 3 TDs SF:  18-Ayoob 22-41-2, 4 TDs

Receiving: C:  6-Lance 6-93, 7-T.Smith 5-42, 23-Estes 2-24, 19-Omahen 2-16, 29-Caldwell 1-31, 11-Garrett 1-12, 24-Clayton 1-8 SF:  2-Jackson 9-178, 22-Grant 5-83, 82-Purify 4-69, 6-Hawkins 4-56

Int-Ret Yards: C:  1-Holmes 1-0, 5-Maria 1-0    SF:  none

Fum Rec: C:  90-Nelson, 38-Whittier SF:  none              

Sacks: C:  18-Stanton SF:  88-Gabourel, 10-Bishop 

Punters: C:  17-Kearney 4-39.5 avg   SF:  32-Jeffery 2-37.5 avg

Kick Ret: C:  21-Theus 3-56, 24-Clayton 1-23, 35-Fuselier 1-3 SF:  6-Hawkins 3-58, 32-Jeffery 1-25, 22-Grant 1-12

Punt Ret: C:  2-Marshall 1-7 SF:  2-Jackson 1-2

Missed FG: C:  10-Tompkins 31 (wide left)                     

Notes: COC finishes 14-0, Official State Champions, Mythical (JC Grid-Wire) National Champions and the first JC team to ever go 14-0.  CCSF finishes 11-1 and this breaks a 23-game winning streak; they're 69-3 over the last 6 years.

MVP:  8-Miles (COC) Defensive Player of Game: 47- Halai (COC); Offensive Player of the Game:  18-Ayoob (CCSF).  What a game.  14-Nolan ripped the ball away from Jackson and Nelson recovered for COC's first turnover.  COC used a T.Smith-to-Caldwell hook-and-lateral (19 yards) on their first drive.  1-Holmes snatched the ball away from Grant for his int.  Jackson had 2 TDs negated by penalties.  CCSF had one last drive but Purify and 1-Bryant caught passes beyond the goal line but out of the end zone in the last 9 seconds.

GAME T-SHIRTS

The coaches association made some great Championship Game t-shirts as a fund-raiser. They were a pretty hot item. There's a logo on the left breast and the back has each team's helmet (looks terrific). Get one of the t-shirts if you missed out on the game. Here's how:

Send a check for $18.00 ($15 plus $3 s/h) to:

Tony Lewis
Merced College
3600 M Street
Merced, CA 95348

The check should be made out to CCCFCA. You must designate a size(s) - L or XL.