HUNTINGTON BEACH — It was simple for Newport Harbor High going into its Sunset League football finale.
Win and the Sailors claim a share of the league title. Lose and their shot at first was over.
The latter happened on Friday night, as the Sailors lost at Huntington Beach, 40-14. Coach Jeff Brinkley couldn't believe it happened.
How could a team that was playing for something as important as a league crown lose by 26 points to a fifth-place team?
"Obviously, it didn't motivate them enough," Brinkley said of the Sailors trying to split their second league championship in five years.
For the second straight year, the Sailors finish in second place in league, one game back of champion Edison. They too could've have been crowned champions like Edison if they had taken care of business against the Oilers.
With Edison blowing out lowly Marina, 49-15, Newport Harbor still clinched the league's No. 2 entry into the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs. The Sailors, who moved into a three-way tie for second with Los Alamitos and Fountain Valley at 3-2, hold the head-to-head edge against both schools.
So, No. 7-ranked Newport Harbor is in the postseason for the fifth straight season and the 22nd time in Brinkley's 28 years in charge of the Sailors. Brinkley knows his team let a golden opportunity slip away.
"[Their] guys, you know, they played harder than we did tonight," Brinkley said. "Whether it was because we already knew that we were locked in [as the league's No 2 playoff team because we lost the head-to-head to Edison], I don't know what the reason was.
"They had a little more incentive maybe than we did tonight, which it shouldn't have been that way, but they played that way."
One week is all the Sailors (5-5 overall) have to regroup for their playoff opener. Sunday is the day they find out who they face in the first round.
Instead of receiving a home game next week, Brinkley believes Newport Harbor will have to travel. He expects a challenge right away from a second-place team from another league.
Huntington Beach (5-5, 2-3 in league), which finished near the bottom of the Sunset League, certainly gave the Sailors more than they could handle. The Oilers jumped out to a 26-14 lead in the first half.
Kai Ross led the way for the Oilers with his legs and right arm. The senior quarterback rushed 17 times for 120 yards and three touchdowns and completed 10 of 12 passes for 88 yards and one touchdown.
Despite Ross' big evening,
Newport Harbor had chances to rally. Turnover on downs in Oiler territory in the second and third quarters hurt the Sailors from cutting into the 12-point deficit.
"We had two opportunities on the [opponent's] 35 to get in and make it a game and we didn't do it," said Brinkley, whose team was shut out in the second half.
Ross played a role in blanking the Sailors in the final two quarters. He started at cornerback and did his best to slow down Newport Harbor quarterback Cole Norris' top two options, wide receivers Quest Truxton and Cory Stowell.
Stowell finished with 10 catches for 137 yards, and Truxton with two for 45 yards. Only Truxton found the end zone.
Truxton beat Ross on a 33-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter. Other than that, Ross held his own, even picking off a tipped pass early in the fourth quarter and returning it 17 yards to the Sailors' 24.
The interception was the first of two the Oilers' secondary came away with in the final quarter. Each led to Ross touchdowns, as he scored on four- and three-yard runs.
Ross, who's is bound for Montana, also set up his first rushing touchdown early in the second quarter. He returned a punt 64 yards to the Sailors' nine. He ran it in from the eight, breaking off a spin move.
Ross and the Oilers weren't the ones playing for first. Their playoff hopes at receiving one of the Southwest Division's two at-large berths appeared dashed after Fountain Valley's upset of No. 3 Los Alamitos, 10-7, on Thursday night, yet they competed.
"I just think we wanted it more," said Ross, breaking it down in simple terms.
Huntington Beach 40, Newport Harbor 14
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport 7 – 7 – 0 – 0 – 14
Huntington 12 – 14 – 0 – 14 – 40
HB – Simmons 1 run (kick failed), 9:55.
NH – Norris 1 run (Schultz kick), 1:34.
HB – Heer 45 run (run failed), :44.
HB – Ross 8 run (Miller kick), 10:55.
NH – Truxton 33 pass from Norris (Schultz kick), 6:59.
HB – Thompson 6 pass from Ross (Miller kick), 4:41.
HB – Ross 4 run (Miller kick), 9:35.
HB – Ross 3 run (Miller kick), 2:20.
NH – Gaddis, 6-29.
HB – Ross, 17-120, 3 TDs.
NH – Norris, 16-32-2, 237, 1 TD.
HB – Ross, 10-12-0, 88, 1 TD.
NH – Stowell, 10-137.
HB – Barber, 4-55.