Los Angeles Times

High Schools: Sailors' quandary at QB

Last week saw the return of Zach Wade, Newport Harbor High's starting quarterback at the beginning of the football season.

He didn't play against Huntington Beach, but he was in his game uniform for the first time since breaking his foot in the second game of the year.

"He's still not 100%, but he is moving around now. It's good to have him back," Coach Jeff Brinkley said.

"If it would've been an emergency, we could've put him in."

That call almost came against Huntington Beach.

The Sailors looked in danger of losing a crucial Sunset League home game. They fell behind, 14-0, in the first quarter.

Newport Harbor's first five drives went nowhere. They ended like this: turnover, punt, punt, punt and punt.

A second loss in league and Newport Harbor was in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time in four years.

But sophomore quarterback Cole Norris, who took over for Wade, rallied the Sailors once again.

Norris threw two touchdown passes and ran for one, all in the final three quarters as Newport Harbor won, 20-17.

Two games in league are left for Newport Harbor (4-4, 2-1 in league), ranked No. 8 in the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division. While Wade has been out, Brinkley has said the starting job was Wade's when he returned from his injury.

Sitting Norris now might be tough.

With Norris starting at quarterback, the Sailors are 4-2, more importantly 2-1 in league. They share second place in league with Los Alamitos and Huntington Beach, and trail first-place Edison by one game.

It probably won't matter who is the Sailors' signal caller Thursday, when Newport Harbor plays host to lowly Marina (3-5, 0-3) at 7 p.m. The Vikings have dropped their last 38 league games, their last league win coming eight years ago.

If the Sailors beat Marina, they move closer to clinching one of the league's three automatic berths into the Southwest Division playoffs. They would have at least two more games after Marina, the league finale against Los Alamitos on Nov. 1 and a first-round playoff game a week later.

Who starts at quarterback in those two contests for Newport Harbor will be interesting.

"I'm not sure," Brinkley said, referring to when Wade will return to the field. "We're just kind of seeing this thing one day at a time. It was good just to get him out [last] week and getting him moving around and doing some things."

Norris has said he's just filling in for Wade, a senior.

But Norris has shown he can do more than just handle the job, throwing for 883 yards and nine touchdowns, with only four interceptions. He is completing close to 57% of his passes.

"I thought Norris played well again," Brinkley said after his quarterback threw for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-21 passing against the Oilers. "He's a competitor and he played very poised for a sophomore."

Norris does well under pressure.

Before halftime, he hit wide receiver Quest Truxton on a six-yard touchdown pass that cut the deficit in half. The play said a lot about Norris' poise under pressure.

The play probably never should've happened.

The shotgun snap to Norris was high, and somehow he snatched it in the air. With a defender in pursuit from his blindside, Norris quickly rolled to his right and fired the pass to Truxton.

"We actually had gotten a little momentum going after being down, and the kids went in [at halftime] and they seemed like they were still a little bit down," Brinkley said. "They just needed to understand that it was one score [we needed] and we're right back in it."

Norris and the defense brought the Sailors back in the second half.

In a formation the offense has always run this year, with receivers bunched up on one side, Norris faked a toss to the right to Talalelei Teaupa. The defense bought it, players yelling "Pitch!" and then swarming toward the line of scrimmage.

Norris quickly found a wide-open Truxton inside the 20-yard line and Truxton raced in for a 39-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 17-14 with 5:02 left in the third quarter.

The defense gave Norris another shot at the start of the fourth quarter. The Sailors stuffed a fourth-and-inches run to give the offense the ball back near midfield.

It took Newport Harbor 11 plays to cover 55 yards. On the last play, from the opponent's one, Norris sneaked into the end zone to put the Sailors ahead, 20-17.

Norris only gained five yards on four carries, but each carry was big. The first three resulted in first downs and the last gave Norris his third comeback win of the season.

Corona del Mar is back at No. 1 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division football poll.

The defending section champion Sea Kings (6-2, 3-0 in the Pacific Coast League) jumped two spots after routing then-No. 5-ranked Irvine, 41-0, on Thursday, when previously-No. 1-ranked Segerstrom suffered its first loss, a 45-33 setback to Orange.

The only two unbeaten teams in the division are CdM and No. 2 Laguna Beach (7-0-1, 3-0-0 in the Orange Coast League).

The other Newport-Mesa team ranked in the Southern Division is Estancia (5-3, 2-1 in the Orange Coast League), which shares the No. 9 spot with Orange (5-3, 2-1 in the Golden West League) and Westminster (4-4, 3-0 in the Golden West League).


Twitter: @DCPenaloza

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