Top-ranked Newport Harbor girls’ flag football survives challenge from rival CdM
The Battle of the Bay rivalry.
A controversial call.
Monday’s first Sunset League girls’ flag football meeting between Newport Harbor and host Corona del Mar had a bit of everything.
In the midst of all the drama, though, Newport Harbor displayed the poise of a team that’s ranked No. 1 in the country by MaxPreps.com.
Junior quarterback Maia Helmar found sophomore receiver Cooper Dick on a 5-yard touchdown pass on the Sailors’ first overtime possession, helping Newport Harbor earn the 12-6 overtime win.
In the first official season as a CIF Southern Section sport, one team will be able to claim the first-ever Sunset League title in flag football. With the win over the rival Sea Kings, the Sailors (15-1, 4-0 in league) moved into outright first place, though eight league games still remain.
Helmar, one of the most talented players in the county, also plays linebacker. She moved from receiver to quarterback this year for Newport Harbor out of necessity. She still got to catch a touchdown pass Monday, taking a short shovel pass from Kate Kubiak into the end zone.
“We’re doing very well, considering that we didn’t start with a quarterback this year,” said Helmar, who’s also a standout softball player. “It’s hard to follow a season like last year, where we went undefeated [in the regular season]. We’re doing our best. Our team just meshes really, really well, and I think that’s the reason why we’ve gotten this far.”
Corona del Mar (11-3, 3-1) is No. 8 in the country per the MaxPreps rankings. The Sea Kings took a 6-0 halftime lead Monday after converting a fourth-down play.
Junior quarterback Alexa Rokos found senior Erika Wein for an 8-yard touchdown reception late in the half. The extra point was unsuccessful.
Rokos gave the Sailors fits for some of the contest, as they were unable to sack her.
“She’s just an incredible athlete back there and causes tons of problems with her athleticism,” Newport Harbor coach Jason Guyser said. “We just could not get to her at all.”
Wein, who competes in track, is another talented athlete for CdM. She formerly played volleyball but has switched to girls’ flag football as her fall sport. She’s been playing it since the second grade and competes on a club team with Helmar and Newport Harbor junior Audrey Burns.
“Harbor’s good,” Wein said, adding that the Sea Kings didn’t get overconfident at halftime. “We played like it was still 0-0, kept the same attitude. They just put up a good fight. They got it together in the last seconds, which is really what counts.”
Helmar’s touchdown reception from Kubiak tied the score at 6-6 midway through the second half, though the Sailors’ extra point was also unsuccessful.
Guyser, whose team beat a talented Woodbridge squad 33-13 to win the South County Showdown tournament on Saturday behind tournament MVP Helmar, was confident in his side.
“We’ve played [CdM] four times now, going back to last year, and they’ve never been able to score more than once against us,” Guyser said. “I felt that if we could keep that going, keep them to one touchdown, that eventually we could come out on top. It didn’t really concern me that they scored first and they had the lead at halftime.”
Controversy came during overtime, which is played similar to college football overtime rules with the teams alternating possessions. CdM got first crack at scoring.
With the Sea Kings facing fourth down, Rokos scrambled right and threw back left, but the pass slipped through the hands of her receiver near the goal line.
Newport Harbor also struggled to score. After CdM senior Ava Simos’ second quarterback sack, the ball was pushed back to fourth down at the 12-yard line. Helmar’s subsequent pass to the left was into traffic, and receiver Kubiak crashed into the CdM defender.
Pass interference was called over the loud objections of the CdM side, giving Newport Harbor first-and-goal at the 5-yard line and setting up the touchdown pass to Dick.
CdM coach Yvonne Sturgeon, who remained in discussion with the referees after the game, told them that it was a 50-50 ball that both players were going for. Guyser saw it differently.
“It’s just very clearly laid out in the rules that you can not go through a receiver to get to the ball,” he said. “I know that they were claiming it was a 50-50 ball … In tackle, would that play have been let go? Possibly. But in flag football, there’s no way that play is allowed.”
Both teams continue league play Wednesday, with Newport Harbor hosting Marina (3-1 in league) and Corona del Mar at home against Huntington Beach (1-3 in league).
The second Battle of the Bay in league play will be Oct. 11 at Newport Harbor. The Sailors and Sea Kings have already had two close games this year, as Newport Harbor earned a 12-7 tournament win on Sept. 9.
“Battle of the Bay is always a tough competition,” said Dick, who plays goalkeeper on the girls’ soccer team. “Especially with the close game last time, we wanted to come back and prove to them that the other side of the bay is better, Newport Harbor is better. We just will always come out on top.”
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