In his first CIF Southern Section playoff appearance in charge of the Newport Harbor High football team, coach Peter Lofthouse was hoping his Sailors would secure the school’s first postseason victory since 2013.
The result came in dramatic fashion on the road Friday.
Sophomore quarterback Nick Kim threw a game-winning, 15-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Jake Keliikoa with 28 seconds left, lifting Newport Harbor to a 35-32 comeback win against Long Beach St. Anthony in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division 9 playoffs at Clark Field.
The Sailors (8-3), who ended a three-game skid, will host No. 3-seeded Monrovia (10-1) in the quarterfinals at Davidson Field on Nov. 14 or 15. Rio Hondo League champion Monrovia blanked Santa Fe 41-0 in the first round on Friday.
Junior running back Justin McCoy played a significant role in the Sailors advancing to the next round. He rushed 34 times for 214 yards and four touchdowns against St. Anthony (5-6), the runner-up from Del Rey League.
“I’m pretty tired after that, I’m not going to lie,” McCoy said. “That was a heavy workload. It feels so good. We kind of abandoned the pass game and relied on the run game because they couldn’t stop it.”
Newport Harbor, the fourth-place team from the Sunset League, overcame three early turnovers and trailed by 13 points midway through the second quarter and by 12 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter. The Sailors didn’t take their first lead until the 7:38 mark in the fourth quarter and they didn’t take it for good until the end.
Lofthouse, in his second year at Newport Harbor, used lessons from early in the season to keep his team in the game after a difficult start.
“We’ve had some games where we’ve fallen behind in the first half, primarily [against] Aliso Niguel,” he said, referring to the nonleague game in which the Sailors erased a 13-point deficit and won 24-14 on the road on Sept. 6. “That was my speech at halftime, [I said], ‘We’ve been here before fellas; this isn’t anything new to us.”
Kim completed 16 of 21 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. He also threw two interceptions.
St. Anthony quarterback Lucas Lehmar completed 15 of 25 passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns. He also added a rushing touchdown. Riley Jenkins caught five passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns.
A first-quarter defensive play by senior defensive back Michael Morrison also helped the Sailors.
On third-and-10, Lehmar connected with Tyus Poyer on a screen pass for what looked to be a sure 35-yard touchdown, but Morrison caught Poyer and stripped the ball on the goal line. Newport Harbor recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchback.
Still, St. Anthony jumped ahead 13-0 on a three-yard rushing touchdown from Lehmar and a 25-yard pass from Lehmar to Jenkins.
Newport Harbor scored with 4:33 left in the second quarter, when McCoy punched in a three-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to six points.
Nineteen seconds into the second half, Lehmar connected with Jenkins again. He hit him this time for a 65-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline, and the Saints took a 19-7 lead.
A little more than two minutes later, McCoy ran for a two-yard touchdown to trim the lead to 19-14.
St. Anthony and Newport Harbor traded touchdowns from there, again on a reception from Jenkins and a run from McCoy, making it 25-20 Saints after both teams failed on two-point conversions.
Newport Harbor finally took the lead in the fourth quarter on a 10-play drive, which McCoy capped with a two-yard run into the end zone to make it 28-25 after a successful two-point conversion. However, Lehmar and St. Anthony wouldn’t go quietly.
On third-and-long, Lehmar found Poyer on a deflected pass for a 41-yard touchdown with 4:51 remaining. That gave the Saints a 32-28 lead.
That’s when Keliikoa came up big in the Sailors’ first playoff game in five years. On third-and-five, Kim lofted a pass that found Keliikoa in the corner of the end zone to complete the comeback win.
“It was electric. I can’t even describe how it feels.” Keliikoa said. “Nick looked at me and said, ‘This is yours, bro.’"
CIF Southern Section Division 9 playoffs
Newport Harbor 35, St. Anthony 32
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport Harbor 0 – 7 – 13 – 15 — 35
St. Anthony 7 – 6 – 12 – 7 — 32
SA – Lehmar 3 run (Griffiths kick), 2:48.
SA – Jenkins 25 pass from Lehmar (kick failed), 6:45.
NH – McCoy 3 run (Starnes kick), 4:33.
SA – Jenkins 65 pass from Lehmar (kick failed), 11:41.
NH – McCoy 2 run (Starnes kick), 9:29.
SA – Jenkins 15 pass from Lehmar (run failed), 4:50.
NH – McCoy 7 run (pass failed), 2:30.
NH – McCoy 2 run (Crowell pass from Kim), 7:38.
SA – Poyer 41 pass from Lehmar (Griffiths kick), 4:51.
NH –Keliikoa 15 pass from Kim (Starnes kick), 0:28.
NH – McCoy, 34-214, 4 TDs.
SA – Lehmar, 16-65, TD.
NH –Kim, 16-21-2, 193, 1 TD.
SA – Lehmar, 15-25-0, 300, 4 TDs.
NH – Goltz, 5-74.
SA – Jenkins, 5-160, 3 TDs.
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