Two winless football teams in the Sunset League entered Friday’s regular-season finale. Only Fountain Valley High left victorious.
The host Barons kept their CIF Southern Section Division 8 playoff hopes alive by defeating Newport Harbor 34-21 at Huntington Beach High.
Fountain Valley ended a five-game losing streak, finishing the regular season 5-5 overall and 1-4 in the league. The .500 record makes the fifth-place Barons eligible to apply for an at-large entry into the postseason.
The Barons, ranked No. 10 in the Division 8 poll, will find out Sunday if they qualified for the playoffs for the second straight year under coach Jimmy Nolan.
They had to rally for their first league victory.
Down 7-0 after the first quarter, then 14-12 at halftime, Nolan leaned on running back Mathew Fuiava to spark the offense. The senior rushed 18 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
“Couldn’t be prouder of [Fuiava],” Nolan said. “He played with a lot of emotion, which is something our team just didn’t have throughout this tough stretch in league. It spread to everyone.
“After one of our toughest weeks as a program, that was [what we] needed.”
Nolan sat several underclassmen, dwindling the Barons’ depth to next to nothing. As for why, Nolan said it was “just a lot of unnecessary drama” and he did not want to elaborate.
Quarterback Andrew Testa staked Newport Harbor to an early lead. The senior completed 23 of 41 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions.
“We asked a lot of him tonight,” Sailors coach Peter Lofthouse said. “He had to step in to replace our [injured] starter Cole [Lavin, who broke his collarbone last week against Corona del Mar], and I thought he did an admirable job under the circumstances.”
After fumbling a snap in the red zone early, Testa found a consistent connection with Aidan Goltz, who finished with nine receptions for 122 yards. The pair connected on two throws for 23 yards to reach the Barons’ doorstep.
Inside the five-yard line, offensive coordinator Kevin Emerson dialed up a direct snap to Brandon Seward-Jones, only for him to throw back to Testa for a four-yard score.
The Barons responded with two big plays from Kishaun Sykes, one that counted and another that got called back. Pinned at the goal line, he cut between two safeties and accelerated 97 yards for the apparent touchdown.
An illegal procedure penalty negated the score. A few plays later, Sykes snagged a 36-yard touchdown toss from Josh Stupin. Sykes had 10 catches for 120 yards, while Stupin was 20-for-31 passing for 211 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions.
Testa then torched the Fountain Valley secondary with jump balls to Goltz and Ethan Barnes to stretch the margin to 14-6. Fuiava punched right back with a 10-yard score just before the break. Two missed two-point conversions kept the Barons trailing.
“Between the deficit, the called back touchdowns and the tough week,” Nolan said, “we overcame a lot of adversity.”
Running back Justin McCoy, who rushed 22 times for 106 yards, marched the Sailors deep into Fountain Valley territory in the third quarter. He opened the second half with nine touches for 31 yards, but then Testa tossed a game-changing interception to Fountain Valley’s Brandon Krause in the end zone.
After a punt, another promising Newport Harbor drive went awry. Fountain Valley defensive tackle Noah Karliner recovered a fumbled shotgun snap.
On the next possession, Fuiava totaled 60 yards on two carries, including an 18-yard touchdown where he trucked a defender on the perimeter.
“I didn’t know I was still up,” Fuiava said. “Once I realized I was still standing, no one was in front of me.”
Fountain Valley’s Blake Anderson, a receiver and cornerback, shut the door on any comeback. He intercepted Testa, and eight plays later, Anderson hauled a 17-yard touchdown in the corner to give the Barons a 34-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“I needed to play [Anderson] sooner at corner,” Nolan said. “He killed it, didn’t he?”
Newport Harbor scored once more, but another Anderson pick allowed the offense to bleed the rest of the clock.
This ends Lofthouse’s first season at the helm of Newport Harbor (3-6-1, 0-5 in league). Lofthouse took over for legendary coach Jeff Brinkley, who retired in January after 32 years leading the Sailors.
With Lofthouse, the Sailors went winless in league play for the first time since 1953, when they went 0-4-1 in the Sunset League. Newport Harbor failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
Fountain Valley 34, Newport Harbor 21
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport Harbor 7 – 7 – 0 – 7 — 21
Fountain Valley 0 – 12 – 8 – 14 — 34
NH – Testa 4 pass from Seward-Jones (Starnes kick), 5:22.
FV – Sykes 36 from Stupin (pass failed), 11:31.
NH – Walker 5 from Testa (Starnes kick), 7:48.
FV – Fuiava 10 run (pass failed), 4:08.
FV – Fuiava 18 run (Fuiava run), 4:45.
FV – Anderson 17 from Stupin (Karliner pass from Stupin), 10:32.
FV – Krause 6 from Stupin (pass failed), 5:02.
NH – Bell 5 from Testa (Starnes kick), 3:41.
NH – McCoy, 22-106.
FV – Fuiava, 18-184, 2 TDs.
NH – Testa, 23-41-3, 250, 3 TDs.
FV – Stupin, 20-31-2, 211, 3 TDs.
NH – Goltz, 9-122.
FV – Sykes, 10-120, 1 TD.
SAM DODGE is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @samgododge