Parker Norton believes the Newport Harbor High football team is going through a rough patch similar to that of last season.
The Sailors have dropped two straight games after winning the first three contests of the season. Newport Harbor experienced the same first half to the regular season last year.
The difference between the two starts is the number of injuries that have hit the Sailors on the offensive side this year.
Gone is Norton's best friend, junior Buzzy Yokoyama, who ran like a freight train in the first four games before dislocating his right kneecap.
The player who is responsible for getting Norton the ball at wide receiver also might be out. Senior quarterback Austin Rios suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the Sailors' 17-6 loss at Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach last week.
Two players Norton expects back are right tackle Dillon Gillette and fullback Ryan Andrews, seniors who missed last week's game. Gillette was out with a concussion and Andrews with a shoulder injury.
The setbacks have affected Newport Harbor during its skid. As the Sailors (3-2) enter their Sunset League opener against Huntington Beach (4-1) tonight at home at 7, Norton said a lot is on the line.
"We know we have to have a win right now," Norton said.
"We're looking to start league good."
The Sailors have begun Sunset League play with a victory in all but one year since they rejoined the league four years ago.
For motivation, Norton points to last season's first league game against Los Alamitos. Newport Harbor went into the contest at home as the underdog.
Norton and the Sailors went on to shock many with a 23-20 victory, handing the Griffins their first loss. Norton caught a six-yard, game-winning touchdown with 85 seconds left, giving Coach Jeff Brinkley his 200th career victory at Newport Harbor.
The Sailors are going to count on Norton to make similar big plays tonight.
The senior already practically does everything on the field for Newport Harbor. Norton starts at receiver and cornerback, returns punts and kickoffs, and he is the placeholder.
If Rios is unable to play tonight, Norton is confident in backup quarterback Cole Blower's abilities. Half of Norton's career-high 12 catches last week came on connections with Blower.
Norton finished with a career-best 139 yards receiving and he hauled in a six-yard touchdown pass. The score late in the game helped the Sailors avoid their first shutout in three years.
Blower, a junior, might get his first varsity start at quarterback. He has replaced Rios before, when Rios went down with a dislocated shoulder in the Sailors' CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division opening-round playoff game at Lakewood last year.
"He was a little nervous in the beginning," Norton said of Blower, who entered the Mira Costa game midway through the second quarter. "But toward the end of the game, he started getting a hang of it and threw me some really good balls."
Norton and Blower hooked up for Newport Harbor's only four first downs in the second half.
For the game, Norton helped the offense produce 10 of its 13 first downs. Eight times Norton moved the chains on receptions, twice on runs.
Norton, who has 35 catches for 342 yards and three touchdowns on the season, said the offense is finding other ways for him to contribute.
"I'll probably get a couple of carries [on end-around plays]," said Norton, adding that senior running back Drew Diller will get the bulk of the carries and junior AJ Swies will get some looks as well in his return from a knee injury. "I like getting a running start [out of the backfield]."
A victory tonight will surely help the Sailors get off to a good start in league.