In the waning moments of Thursday’s Sunset League showdown at Huntington Beach High, the Newport Harbor boys’ lacrosse team called a timeout to regroup.
With the Sailors staring down a one-goal deficit, coach Mark Todd used the opportunity to deliver a message to his players. And did they ever respond.
Newport Harbor scored three goals in the final two minutes — all within a span of 46 seconds — to down the Oilers 7-5 in its league opener.
Joe Fuller whipped the game-tying goal into the lower net with 1:58 remaining. Race Mooers scored the game winner 15 seconds later before Fuller found the net again, putting the game away.
“They dug really deep,” Todd said. “I got them to put their arms around each other and just said, ‘Let’s do it for each other.’ That was the key. They leaned on their friendships and counted on each other.”
In addition to a thrilling finish, the game featured a bit of revenge for Newport Harbor, which improved to 4-5 overall. Huntington Beach ended the Sailors’ 22-game winning streak in league last season on its way to locking down the Sunset League title.
“It was definitely a good feeling to come back to winning in league,” Mooers said. “My freshman and sophomore years we were undefeated in league, then last year we hit a dud. I’m just hoping to take back the Sunset League title.”
The opening moments of the match foreshadowed a defensive showdown to unfold in the first half, as each team mustered just one shot on net through the first seven minutes.
Huntington Beach midfielder Jake Alkire broke up the scoreless tie at the 4:59 mark of the first quarter. He attacked the left side of the net and sent the ball past Sailors goalie Garrett Rovazzini.
Just over a minute later, Newport Harbor provided an answer of its own.
Mooers, a midfielder, found Rhett Farmer in perfect position outside the crease. Farmer fielded the pass and fired it into the net seamlessly, tying the score at 1-1.
There would be no more scoring in the first half for either team, as both goalies pitched a shutout over the next 19:45.
The play of Grady Mercier in net — as well as fellow senior leader Donnie Schulte — provided a silver lining for Huntington Beach (3-4, 0-2 in league) in the loss. Mercier delivered a masterful performance in net, keeping Huntington Beach in the contest with 13 saves, while Schulte recorded three goals.
Oilers coach Michael Lacy recognized the pair’s value.
“Those are two of my top seniors and two of my top captains as well,” Lacy said. “I rely heavily on them. Donnie is my main look for my attack, and Grady is sort of the ball-and-chain for the entire team. He’ll run the defense and play a little offense clearing the ball when needed. They were huge instrumental parts of this game. Without them, I think the goal differential would be a lot more.”
A back-and-forth third quarter made up for a quiet first half, with each team picking up three goals to take a 4-4 tie to the fourth. Each team held possession for several minutes at a time throughout the second half, with no team taking control of momentum until the 7:43 mark of the fourth quarter, when Schulte’s third goal of the night put the Oilers up 5-4.
An errant pass with just over two minutes left, however, opened the door for a Newport Harbor scoring opportunity. The Sailors seized the opportunity, sending the home crowd away stunned with a flurried finish.
As Newport Harbor looks to parlay its newfound momentum into a successful run in league play, Huntington Beach will attempt to make the most of a teaching moment presented by its late-game letdown.
“With lacrosse, you have to play a full four quarters,” Lacy said. “We were there for a full three and a half. When we take that lead, we have to understand to possess that ball, and every pass needs to make it. The momentum swung our way, we just couldn’t hold it.”
JOSH CRISWELL is a contributor to Times Community News. Follow him on Twitter: @joshccriswell