"My stomach is empty, but my heart is full."
That was the message Canby head coach Jimmy Joyce delivered to his team as the Cougars huddled on their home field after a 26-22 season opening loss to Lincoln Friday night.
Canby was nearly knocked out of the game in the first half, falling behind the Cardinals 19-0 with 4:16 remaining in the second quarter.
But senior Ronan Gay helped the Cougars get off the mat, returning a kickoff into Lincoln territory and then catching a 30-yard touchdown pass on fourth down from quarterback Andrew Peters to get Canby on the scoreboard with 3:26 remaining.
"That was the turning point for us in the game because we were able to take a breath and realize the fireworks are going to go off and it's not going to be like last year," Joyce said. "We are going to score points. We are going to move the ball."
The Cougars got the ball to start the second half and Peters, facing a third-and-long, threw his second touchdown pass of the game on a 17-yard strike to Tyler Mead in the back corner of the end zone.
Canby then took the lead with 5:41 remaining in the game after senior Wyatt Ramos bulldozed his way into the end zone from the eight yard line. Peters connected with Matthew Soles for a successful two-point try to put the Cougars on top 22-19.
But Canby's lead did not last long as Lincoln only needed three plays to go 82 yards.
Cardinals quarterback Jake Leitgeb connected with Charles Wilmott for a 62-yard touchdown.
Canby punted on its next possession and then ran out of time after getting the ball once more, starting from their own 3-yard line with 55 seconds remaining.
"I think we showed in the second half what we are capable of," Joyce said. "It's belief. These kids know what happened last year and the (0-9) record last season. They have to understand that they're not that team anymore. But they have to fight and they can't just roll over and die and that's what we've been pressing all year. We fought through it and I think you saw the team we want to be in the second half."
While Lincoln jumped out to an early lead, it was Canby who had the first big play of the night. On the Cougars second possession, backup quarterback Michael Gibson showed off his arm, taking a reverse and then connecting with Chance Miller for a 27-yard gain.
"It's a play I've ran every year for the last like nine years," Joyce said. "I think I'm about 9-0 on that play and scored about six times. It's like a once a season play. Once they've (opponents) got film on it, it's pretty easy to see."
But the Cougars could not cash in after the trick play, getting stopped on fourth down from the Lincoln 18-yard line.
Leitgeb then found Marko Vidackovic for a 65-yard touchdown to put the Cardinals on the scoreboard with 9:46 remaining in the second quarter. The two connected again about three minutes later to go up 13-0.
Canby then fumbled the kickoff and Lincoln took advantage of a short field as Brady Prince capped a six-play, 37-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown run.
In his first varsity start at quarterback, Peters completed 13 of 30 pass attempts for 128 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
"That's nerve-racking for anyone," Joyce said. "It doesn't matter who it is, whatever position, and when you throw quarterback in the mix, the lights get a little brighter, the focus is always on the quarterback, even though there's 11 guys out there, it's the person that's starting the play. I thought he grew a lot as a leader, but he also grew as a player, too. We still have a lot to do and we're going to keep on pushing forward."
Ramos led the Cougars on the ground, finishing with 74 yards on 13 carries.
Canby travels to South Medford in week two. The Panthers defeated Centennial 40-13 Friday.
"I don't see us having a wholesale change going into week two, but we're a tinkering bunch and we're going to try to make the kids as successful as they can be," Joyce said.
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