It’s no longer a difficult sell for the Newport Harbor High football team to believe it can win, even when facing a double-digit deficit in the second half of a CIF Southern Section Division 9 playoff game.
But the Sailors’ second straight comeback, a 24-20 win over No. 3-seeded Monrovia in the quarterfinals at home Friday, capped by a winning touchdown in the final minute for the second consecutive game, came down to a “Cole” call.
Junior quarterback Cole Lavin, seeing his first action at the position off the bench since injuring a knee in the fifth game of the season, called an audible to set up the game-winning score against Monrovia at Davidson Field.
Lavin, whose six-yard touchdown run on a run-pass option keeper midway through the fourth quarter pulled Newport Harbor within 20-17, changed an RPO aimed for the left side to a running play toward the right on the 10th play of the game-winning drive. The result was Justin McCoy sweeping to the right side and leaping into the end zone with 47 seconds left.
The winning three-yard touchdown run, one week after a scoring pass with 28 seconds remaining gave the Sailors their first playoff win since 2013, propelled Newport Harbor (9-3) into a semifinal clash at top-seeded Palmdale Highland (9-3) on Nov. 22.
McCoy, who carried seven times for 28 yards on the final drive against Monrovia (10-2), collected 79 of his 102 rushing yards after halftime against the Wildcats, the Rio Hondo League champions who came in on an eight-game winning streak. He followed blocks by tackle Grayson Simon and guard Cole McCunniff just inside the pylon for the go-ahead score.
Monrovia, which continually converted on third- and fourth-down situations to keep the upper hand on the Sailors, ran three plays in a last-ditch effort to survive and advance. But the Sailors tackled three ballcarriers on a desperation lateral play on the final snap to spark a wild celebration.
“[Lavin, who lined up in shotgun formation] checked us to an outside zone play,” Newport Harbor coach Peter Lofthouse said of the winning score. “And then Justin McCoy being Justin McCoy found the end zone.”
Lavin, who gave a different look to starting quarterback Nick Kim, who completed 19 of 32 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown, said he noticed the Monrovia defense was loaded up against what would have been a run to the left.
“There were three guys [in the targeted hole on the left] so that play was dead,” Lavin said. “So I checked to an outside zone on the right side. [The Wildcats] didn’t have an edge player, so we had the field and it worked.”
The winning drive was set up by a strip-sack by Newport Harbor linebacker Erik Hehl, who separated the ball from Monrovia quarterback Nick Hernandez, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 137 yards. Hehl said fellow linebacker Zach Debernarde recovered the ball, giving the Sailors possession at their own 36-yard line with 3:24 left.
Newport Harbor, which fumbled the ball away on its opening possession after the Wildcats marched 71 yards on 12 plays with the opening kickoff to take a 7-0 lead, got an interception by cornerback Austin Muro and a fumble recovery by Hehl, to help hold down a productive Monrovia offense. Devon Mayes ran 22 times for 108 yards for the Wildcats.
Hehl’s fumble recovery near midfield late in the first quarter sparked the Sailors’ first score. Three plays later, Kim adjusted in the pocket and hit Aidan Goltz on a 35-yard post pattern to knot the score at 7-7.
After the Wildcats went 60 yards on 13 plays to go up 14-7, a Wade Tankersley 27-yard field goal with 2:42 left in the half cut into the deficit.
After a scoreless third quarter, Tyree Miles scored to put the visitors up 20-10 with 11:26 left in the game.
Goltz finished with 100 yards on nine receptions to help Newport Harbor advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2013, when the Sailors made the Southwest Division final, the program’s eighth section finals appearance. He also had a sack on the final Monrovia possession.
“We fight,” Lavin said of his team’s determination when trailing. “We were down a lot this game and we have been down a lot this season. We come back a lot. We love it. We don’t get down on ourselves, we just keep fighting and chipping away and play until the last second.”
CIF Southern Section Division 9 playoffs
Newport Harbor 24, Monrovia 20
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Monrovia 7 – 7 – 0 – 6 — 20
Newport Harbor 7 – 3 – 0 – 14 — 24
M – Hernandez 1 run (Gomez kick), 8:24.
NH – Goltz 35 pass from Kim (Starnes kick), 0:23.
M – Wilson 12 run (Gomez kick), 8:30.
NH – Tankersley 27 FG, 2:42.
M – Myles 2 run (run failed), 11:26.
NH – Lavin 6 run (Tankersley kick), 7:10.
NH – McCoy 3 run (Tankersley kick), 0:47.
M – Mayes, 22-108.
NH – McCoy, 23-102, 1 TD.
M – Hernandez, 17-26-1, 137.
NH – Kim, 19-32-0, 163, 1 TD.
M – Minor, 9-118.
NH – Goltz, 9-100, 1 TD.
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