The Newport Harbor High football team entered Thursday night's contest with Los Alamitos searching for its first win of 2017.
Short-handed offensively against one of Orange County’s most imposing defenses, it never stood much of a chance.
The Sailors were held to just 21 yards in the first half — while allowing 203 yards on the ground alone — setting the stage for a 49-0 loss to open Sunset League play at Davidson Field. The defeat marked the program’s first 0-6 start since 1981.
“We didn't play very well,” Newport Harbor coach Jeff Brinkley said. “It's my responsibility to get them prepared, and we didn’t look very prepared. We just have to keep plugging away, keep preparing like we do, and hopefully get a little better next week.”
With injuries ailing an array of players, including a pair of senior starters in running back Jaylen Andrews and offensive lineman Billy Hanck, the offense sputtered. Compounding the Sailors’ injury woes was an uphill battle against a Los Alamitos defensive front that features a pair of Division 1 caliber linebackers in Issaiah Johnson and Alex Miskela.
Junior Colin Gregg took on the bulk of the rushing workload in Andrews’ absence, and was held to -2 yards on 11 first-half carries. Similar to Gregg, quarterback Sam Barela was hindered by constant penetration in the Newport Harbor backfield. The junior failed to discover any rhythm, completing just three of 11 passes for 15 yards while tossing an interception.
For a Los Alamitos squad that lost its final two games of nonleague play, a dominant performance on both sides of the ball signaled a fresh start.
"We lost our last two. It was a little bit heartbreaking, but we just got a clean slate,” Los Alamitos coach Ray Fenton said. “Everybody was 0-0 going into this week, so now we feel like we're 1-0 and moving in the right direction.”
Although the most obvious takeaway from the Griffins’ shutout victory was a suffocating defensive effort, perhaps even more promising was the play of senior quarterback Grant Caraway.
The first-year varsity starter completed five of nine passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another 50 yards and one score on eight carries — all in the first half. Under Caraway’s guidance, Los Alamitos outgained the Sailors 286-21 and found the end zone on each of its six possessions in the first two quarters.
"It's nice to see that our quarterback is getting more comfortable,” Fenton said. “What you saw tonight, he did all last year at the JV level. This is his first year starting on the varsity team, and he wasn't doing that stuff early on. The game is slowing down for him. He's feeling more comfortable and more confident, and it shows in his play.”
Complementing Caraway’s multi-dimensional effort was workhorse back Keanu Norman. The junior rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, before also making a halftime exit.
With Los Alamitos having secured the game with a 42-0 halftime lead, both teams pulled their offensive impact players and agreed to a running clock in the second half.
The Sailors allowed another Griffins touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter before finding a relative taste of success down the stretch. Sophomore running back Johnny Brigandi rushed for 41 yards on 14 carries in the second half, picking up two of Newport Harbor’s three first downs of the night.
Although several areas have held the Sailors back in 2017, the injury bug has undoubtedly incurred the greatest hit. Unfortunately, due to a potential ankle injury to key wide receiver Raphael Cruz, these issues do not appear to be going away in the immediate future.
"One thing we need is to get some guys healthy,” Brinkley said. “We lost a couple more tonight, so that's kind of our emphasis right now. Try to get some guys healthy and try to regroup next week. Edison and Los Alamitos have kind of separated themselves from the pack. The rest of us are pretty similar, so hopefully these last four games we can improve. Starting next week with Edison will be a big challenge."
Newport Harbor returns to action Oct. 13, as the Sailors host Edison, which won 63-0 Friday against Huntington Beach.
Los Alamitos 49, Newport Harbor 0
Newport Harbor…0 0 0 0 — 0
Los Alamitos…….21 21 7 0 — 49
LA - 5 run Norman (PAT good), 9:09
LA - 1 run Norman (PAT good), 6:03
LA - Ruiz 19 pass from Caraway (PAT good), 2:46
LA - 1 run Norman (PAT good), 10:51
LA - Ruiz 32 pass from Caraway (PAT good), 6:46
LA - 3 run Caraway (PAT good), 2:13
LA - 2 run Davis (PAT good), 8:47
NH - Brigandi 14-41 yards
LA - Norman 15-133 yards, 3 TDs
NH - Barela 3-11-1, 15 yards
LA - Caraway 5-9 83 yards, 2 TDs
NH - Bashore 1-8 yards
LA - Ruiz 3-55 yards, 2 TDs
JOSH CRISWELL is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @joshccriswell