Newport Harbor football stages big comeback against Temecula Valley to win CIF Division 6 title
The way that the Newport Harbor High School football team looked at it, adversity had been par for the course.
Newport Harbor had also shown with its playoff run that it was capable of a proper response, so when the Sailors fell behind by three scores in the first half, they did not panic.
Sophomore running back Henry Slater ran in the go-ahead touchdown with 3:23 remaining, as Newport Harbor rallied to defeat host Temecula Valley 42-35 on Saturday night in the CIF Southern Section Division 6 championship game.
“This team has not lacked talent,” Newport Harbor coach Peter Lofthouse said. “This team lacked the understanding of how to win football games, and when you’ve got 16 or 17 sophomores and juniors contributing on your starting teams, they’ve got to learn to overcome adversity and mistakes, and they learned the hard way through [nonleague games] and [the Sunset] League.
“In the playoffs, we found success. They started learning how to win, and they put together four great football games, and here we are with the CIF title now.”
The Sailors, who won their first section championship since 2005 and fourth overall, appeared in a final for the first time since 2013. Newport Harbor will travel to take on San Bernardino Aquinas on Friday in the CIF State Southern California Regional Division 3-AA championship game.
Slater, who did not receive his first touch until after halftime, had two rushing scores, the second providing the Sailors with their only lead of the game.
“This is just my style,” Slater said. “My first varsity start was a playoff game, so honestly, this is all I know, so I’m used to it.”
Time remained for Temecula Valley, but McKay Ketchum undercut a route to end the threat with a title-clinching interception at the Sailors’ 16 yard-line.
“I just want to thank my team,” Ketchum said. “I’ve been out with a concussion for the last four weeks, so this is my first game back. I was a little iffy going in, and to make that play was really kind of a confidence-booster. I’m really glad to be back, and that was a big play for our team. We really needed that in crunch time.”
The No. 3-seeded Sailors (7-7) erased a pair of 21-point deficits, as the No. 4-seeded Golden Bears (10-4) threatened to run away with the game using an up-tempo offense.
A nine-play, 72-yard drive ending with a two-yard rushing touchdown by Lucas Valencia put Temecula Valley up 21-0 with 8:54 on the clock in the second quarter.
Less than a minute later, junior receiver Kashton Henjum put the Sailors on the board, pulling in a pass from senior quarterback AJ Guitron-Moore for a 15-yard score.
Temecula Valley needed just two plays to answer, as Samuel Gbatu Jr. went long for a 70-yard touchdown from the Golden Bears’ dual-threat quarterback Zach Zella.
Zella had three passing touchdowns, and he was also Temecula Valley’s leading rusher with 20 carries for 82 yards and another score.
After a trying regular season, Newport Harbor held onto the hope that it would be given a chance to compete in the postseason.
In receiving an at-large berth into the section playoffs, the Sailors took full advantage of the opportunity, leaning on a big-play offense to key their postseason run.
“That’s all I’ve been praying for, that’s what I’ve been dreaming of, and the Lord above just helped us and helped me get this opportunity,” Guitron-Moore said. “We took advantage of it. Being down 21-0 in the first [half], it’s just surreal.”
Henjum had 11 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns, and Josiah Lamarque turned three receptions into 99 yards and two touchdowns for the Sailors. Hayden Farley added 80 rushing yards.
“We know we came into league, and we didn’t do as good as we expected, but that was just that,” Henjum said. “That was over. The second we got the invite to the playoffs, we knew it was a new season, that we were the best team in this division, and we just proved that.”
The Sailors defense made a goal-line stand with the score tied at 28-28 in the third quarter. Nathan Peters and Trace Werner were among those in pursuit of Valencia on the fourth-down run.
“We feed off each other,” Peters said. “When the offense is working, the defense feeds off it, and when the defense is working, the offense feeds off that.”
Jacob Carlon had a sack, and Grayson Simon and Aidan Bertonneau combined on another.
CIF Southern Section Division 6 final
Newport Harbor 42, Temecula Valley 35
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport Harbor 0 – 14 – 14 – 14 – 42
Temecula Valley 14 – 14 – 0 – 7 – 35
TV – Kretz 34 pass from Zella (Tulimero kick), 8:38.
TV – Zella 5 run (Tulimero kick), 3:21.
TV – Valencia 2 run (Tulimero kick), 8:54.
NH – Henjum 15 pass from Guitron-Moore (Richardson kick), 8:06.
TV – Gbatu Jr. 70 pass from Zella (Tulimero kick), 7:42.
NH – Lamarque 35 pass from Guitron-Moore (Richardson kick), 1:03.
NH – Lamarque 52 pass from Guitron-Moore (Richardson kick), 9:59.
NH – Slater 1 run (Richardson kick), 6:07.
TV – Paris 13 pass from Zella (Tulimero kick), 10:46.
NH – Henjum 50 pass from Guitron-Moore (Richardson kick), 9:13.
NH – Slater 4 run (Richardson kick), 3:23.
NH – Farley, 14-80; Slater, 6-23, 2 TDs.
TV – Zella, 20-82, 1 TD; Valencia, 9-69, 1 TD.
NH – Guitron-Moore, 16-23-1, 268, 4 TDs.
TV – Zella, 16-27-1, 241, 3 TDs.
NH – Henjum, 11-159, 2 TDs; Lamarque, 3-99, 2 TDs.
TV – Gbatu Jr., 5-106, 1 TD.
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