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Newport Harbor football blown out by Highland in CIF Division 9 semifinal

Newport Harbor players embrace after suffering a 58-17 loss to Highland in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 9 playoffs on Friday in Palmdale.
(Anthony Ciardelli)

There would be no Newport Harbor High comeback this time around.

The cardiac kids of Newport Harbor finally met their match in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division 9 football playoffs, falling at No. 2-seeded Palmdale Highland 58-17 on Friday.

The Sailors had gotten used to rallying, winning their first-round game against Long Beach St. Anthony and quarterfinal game against No. 3 Monrovia in the final minute of each.

Unfortunately, Highland (10-3) jumped out to a 22-3 first-quarter lead, and Newport Harbor could not claw back. The Sailors (9-4) fell one game short of reaching a section final for the first time since 2013.

“Early in the game, we made some critical errors,” Sailors coach Peter Lofthouse said. “Offensively, we missed some touchdown passes that we had that could’ve gotten us some momentum.”

Newport Harbor struggled to contain Highland running back Isaiah Creech. The senior had 20 carries for 219 yards and four touchdowns.

Nick Kim completed 23 of 41 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns for Newport Harbor. Cole Lavin replaced Kim after he left with an injury in the fourth quarter, completing three of five passes for 30 yards, with two interceptions.

Senior receiver Aidan Goltz had trouble diagnosing the cause of Newport Harbor’s slow start, which included multiple dropped passes from different receivers that negated potential long touchdowns.

“It could’ve been a ton of things. It could’ve been the bus ride. It could’ve been the warmup,” Goltz said. “Ultimately, we have to come out stronger.”

Highland wasted no time in taking the lead.

Already up 8-0 in the first quarter, Creech found his legs. On a second-and-three play, Creech sprinted between the tackles on his way to a 17-yard touchdown run to make it 14-0.

Newport Harbor ended the shutout after a promising drive stalled, having to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Jack Starnes.

Creech wasted no time in scoring again. On his first carry of Highland’s next drive, he streaked up the middle for a 52-yard touchdown run to make it 22-3 with 1:06 remaining.

Creech struck again midway through the second quarter with a four-yard touchdown run up the middle. The Bulldogs took a 28-3 lead.

Newport Harbor finally broke through for a touchdown with 4:07 remaining in the first half. On fourth down, Joe Knipp secured a four-yard touchdown pass from Kim to cut the deficit to 28-10.

Unfortunately for Newport Harbor, Creech scored his fourth touchdown of the first half. His 33-yard run extended Highland’s lead to 34-10 with 2:18 left before halftime.

“I’m always looking to better myself each game,” Creech said. “Each day, working hard, following the game plan, following my coaches, and grinding with my brothers.”

Newport Harbor showed some sign of life in the third quarter.

After receiving the benefit of a fourth-down pass interference call to give them a new set of downs inside the Highland 20-yard line, Kim completed a 15-yard touchdown pass that James Crowell hauled in over his shoulder. The Sailors trimmed the lead to 34-17 with 4:05 remaining in the third.

In the fourth quarter, Highland put the game away. After a 53-yard run by Creech, Joshua Clark ran the ball in from 10 yards out.

Newport Harbor had a scary moment midway through the fourth quarter, when Kim absorbed a crushing blindside hit that knocked off his helmet and sent him motionless to the ground. After five minutes, Kim left the field under his own power.

Highland would add two more touchdowns, and it was on its way to making its second straight section championship game under coach Richard Lear. The Bulldogs will host North Torrance (11-2) in the final on either Nov. 29 or 30.

CIF Southern Section Division 9 playoffs

Semifinal

Highland 58, Newport Harbor 17

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Newport Harbor 3 – 7 – 7 – 0 — 17

Highland 22 – 12 – 0 – 24 — 58

FIRST QUARTER

H – Spiteri 45 pass from Pecoraro (Clark run), 9:16.

H – Creech 17 run (run failed), 5:00.

NH – J. Starnes 30 FG, 1:28.

H – Creech 52 run (Clark run), 1:06.

SECOND QUARTER

H – Creech 4 run (run failed), 6:59.

NH –Knipp 4 pass from Kim (Tankersley kick), 4:07.

H – Creech 33 run (pass failed), 2:18.

THIRD QUARTER

NH – Crowell 15 pass from Kim (Tankersley kick), 4:05.

FOURTH QUARTER

H – Clark 10 run (Pulliam run), 9:01.

H – Jamison 65 INT return (Clark run), 7:41.

H – Spiteri 56 run (Brown run), 4:41.

INDIVIDUAL RUSHING

NH – Lavin, 3-37.

H – Creech, 20-219, 4 TDs.

INDIVIDUAL PASSING

NH – Kim, 23-41-0, 267, 2 TDs.

H – Pecoraro, 9-11-0, 153, 1 TD.

INDIVIDUAL RECEIVING

NH – Walker, 3-83.

H – Jamison, 4-78.

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