NEWPORT BEACH — The first 33 minutes of Corona del Mar High’s Pacific Coast League opener looked gloomy.
A player with the last name “Gray” almost got the Sea Kings out of the dark.
Brent Gray caught only five passes, but he made three of them account for huge touchdowns against Northwood Thursday night. Gray’s 27-yard touchdown grab midway through the fourth quarter gave the Sea Kings their first lead of the game.
The lead did not hold up as CdM and Northwood finished in a 29-29 tie at Newport Harbor High. CdM Coach Jason Hitchens said he preferred to see a winner, but added before the season that the coaches in the league voted against overtime in league play.
“I guess it’s better than a loss,” Hitchens said with a smile.
Hitchens will take the tie after going winless in league last season.
The Sea Kings faced one of the newest members to the Pacific Coast League. Northwood looked as though it might treat the Sea Kings the same way the rest of league’s teams did last year.
The Sea Kings rallied from a 15-point deficit in the second half to put an end to a five-game losing streak in league dating back to last season.
The Sea Kings entered the home game with an extra week to prepare, but they struggled with the basics in the second quarter.
Getting the ball to the quarterback proved problematic for the Sea Kings (4-1-1, 0-0-1 in league), ranked No. 5 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division poll.
After center Max Priestley went down with an injury at the end of the opening quarter, the backup center snapped the ball over quarterback Mitch Gardner’s head twice in shotgun formation, and sailed one over the head of the punter.
The eighth-ranked Timberwolves (3-2-1, 0-0-1) took advantage of one of the miscues late in the first half. They jumped out to a 22-7 lead on the second three-yard touchdown hook-up between quarterback Ricky Bautista and tight end Tyler Perkins.
At one point, CdM trailed, 8-7, six seconds into the second quarter, when Gardner lofted a perfect eight-yard pass to Gray in the corner of the end zone. Gray leaped to make the catch and came down in bounds before celebrating the touchdown with Gardner.
The good times ended for Gardner, as the Sea Kings replaced the senior after he struggled with a snap for the second time before halftime.
Gardner, who finished with 197 yards and three touchdowns on 12-of-21 passing, turned things around in the second half. Shortly after he helped the Sea Kings move the chains in the third quarter for the first time in a 20-minute span dating back to the first quarter, Gardner found Gray in traffic.
The senior wide receiver hauled in Gardner’s pass with one hand, and then bounced off a tackler near the opponent’s 20-yard line before racing into the end zone for a 52-yard score. The touchdown made it an eight-point game with 2:05 left in the third quarter.
The Sea Kings evened the game at 22-22 on Cole Cottrell’s three-yard touchdown run and after succeeding on a two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter.
Midway through the fourth, Gardner again went to Gray, who finished with 111 yards receiving. This time, the two hooked up for a 27-yard touchdown to give CdM a 29-22 lead, its first of the night.
Northwood responded late, getting help from a personal-foul call on the Sea Kings after a punt return. With the Timberwolves on CdM’s 17, they scored on a little trickery. Kevin Norman took a toss and found a wide-open Jake Neiber in the end zone for a touchdown.
Northwood elected to kick the extra-point kick and tied CdM at 29-29 with 2:10 left. The score remained the same.
“The mindset behind [not playing overtime in league] is, especially now that we have an at-large [playoff berth] in the division, that a tie helps you, and given the situation, would you rather tag a loss on there or a tie?” Hitchens said.
“I would’ve been a lot happier if we would’ve held on to the lead and won the game, but considering how horrible we played in the first half, [I’ll take the tie].”
Corona del Mar 29, Northwood 29
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Northwood 8 – 14 – 0 – 7 — 29
CdM 0 – 7 – 7 – 15 — 29
NW – Perkins 3 pass from Bautista (King pass from Bautista), 11:07.
CdM – Gray 8 pass from Gardner (Boehm kick), 11:54.
NW – Bautista 1 run (Nellesen kick), 7:16.
NW – Perkins 3 pass from Bautista (Hyman kick), 2:25.
CdM – Gray 52 pass from Gardner (Boehm kick), 2:05.
CdM – Cottrell 3 run (Cottrell pass from Gardner), 10:42.
CdM – Gray 27 pass from Gardner (Boehm kick), 6:15.
NW – Neiber 17 pass from Norman (Hyman kick), 2:10.
NW – Gisch, 3-33.
CdM – Fisher, 16-25.
NW – Bautista, 15-31-2, 159, 2 TDs.
CdM – Gardner, 12-21-1, 197, 3 TDs.
NW – Gubernick, 8-76.
CdM – Gray, 5-111, 3 TDs.