ORANGE — Newport Harbor High ran out of its comeback magic on the football field.
In five of their seven victories this year, the Sailors rallied each time in the second half. The problem was that Newport Harbor met a team Friday that had done the same thing a handful of times in the fourth quarter, coming back to win.
What third-seeded Villa Park pulled off, a 26-21 victory in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs, stunned the Sailors. They really had a hard time coming to grips with losing a game in which the Sailors led by two scores with a little more than nine minutes left to play.
A 21-12 lead didn't hold up at El Modena High. Just like that, Newport Harbor's season was over.
"I can't really put it into words right now how this feels," said a dejected Landon Gyulay, a Newport Harbor wide receiver and cornerback.
During the week, Gyulay tweeted about getting Jeff Brinkley his 250th career victory as a high school coach. The standout senior did his best, keeping the Sailors (7-5) ahead twice.
The senior standout caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Cole Norris in stride, increasing Newport Harbor's lead to 14-6 before halftime.
When Villa Park inched closer, cutting the deficit to 14-12 on an 80-yard touchdown pass, there was Gyulay again. He covered a bigger player, denying him a chance to catch a pass on Villa Park's two-point attempt to tie the game late in the third quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Sailors put together an impressive eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Talalelei Teaupa capped it by diving into the end zone on a 19-yard run, putting Newport Harbor ahead, 21-12, with 9:15 to go.
To Brinkley, there was still a lot of time on the clock.
"You never feel comfortable," Brinkley said. "I don't feel comfortable until the final gun goes off."
Before the final whistle blew, Villa Park (11-1) scored two touchdowns in the final 9:06.
It didn't take the home team long, just 3:15 to produce the first score, an 11-yard run by Meki Tafuna. It was his second 11-yard score of the night.
The Spartans got the ball back right away, forcing Newport Harbor to go three-and-out and punt. With 4:08 left, Villa Park took over on the opponent's 44.
Villa Park fed Tafuna four times and he recorded 36 yards on the ground. The senior, who rushed 22 times for 116 yards, got the offense to the Sailors' one on a 16-yard run.
A couple of plays later, Justin Mottram leaped into the end zone for the go-ahead score with 1:57 left.
"Our team [steps] up when it counts," said Villa Park Coach Dusan Ancich, whose team plays second-seeded Tustin next week in the semifinals. "We have a special group of guys that are not going to give up."
Brinkley has said the same thing about his Sailors all year long.
They came close to sending Brinkley to the semifinals for the 10th time in his 27 years at Newport Harbor.
Only an injury slowed down Villa Park on the game's opening drive. The Spartans came out with a no-huddle look, unusual for a running team.
The hurry-up offense worked. The pace in which it covered 82 yards wasn't fast. Villa Park used 18 plays, eating almost 9 1/2 minutes off the clock to take the lead first.
Tafuna put the Spartans ahead on an 11-yard run, aided by a block by quarterback Dylan Osborne. They tried to run again, opting for two points, instead of one. Instead of running Tafuna, their 1,000-yard back, the Spartans used a little trickery and gave it to a defensive end.
The play backfired as Newport Harbor stopped it. The stance gave the Sailors life after they failed to stop whatever Villa Park ran before the two-point try.
Offensively, the Sailors showed very little in the first quarter, or for the entire first half, collecting just two first downs. None of it mattered. The two big plays before halftime belonged to them.
Twenty-two seconds into the second quarter, Quest Truxton gave Newport Harbor life. He probably never should have been in the situation to give the Sailors a lead, if not for a Villa Park receiver having a 16-yard pass hit him right in the back.
The receiver never turned around to catch the ball and convert a first down on third-and-14. Instead of having the ball on the Sailors' 30 to start the second quarter, the Spartans punted from near midfield. They kicked themselves after watching Truxton return the punt 84 yards for a touchdown.
Truxton fielded the ball on the 16, and then hit traffic, before going to the right, toward the Villa Park sideline. Once he got near there, he exploded up field and sprung loose. Near the opponent's 40, Truxton cut to the left and he was gone.
"I felt like going into the second half, we had most of the momentum," said Gyulay, whose team lost it in the fourth quarter, costing Newport Harbor its season.
CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs
Villa Park 26, Newport Harbor 21
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport Harbor 0 – 14 – 0 – 7 – 21
Villa Park 6 – 0 – 6 – 14 – 26
VP – Tafuna 11 run (run failed), 3:39.
NH – Truxton 84 punt return (Schultz kick), 11:38.
NH – Gyulay 53 pass from Norris (Schultz kick), 1:42.
VP – Harrison 80 pass from Osborne (pass failed), 0:28.
NH – Teaupa 19 run (Schultz kick), 9:15.
VP – Tafuna 11 run (Sanders kick), 5:51.
VP – Mottram 1 run (Sanders kick), 1:57.
NH – Teaupa, 20-99, 1 TD.
VP – Tafuna, 22-116, 2 TDs.
NH – Norris, 10-18-1, 117, 1 TD.
VP – Osborne, 12-21-0, 228, 1 TD.
NH – Gyulay, 2-55, 1 TD.
T – Harrison, 4-156, 1 TD.