NEWPORT BEACH — Cole Blower's first varsity start at quarterback for Newport Harbor High came at a time the banged-up Sailors needed a spark.
The junior responded to the call in a Sunset League opener Friday night at home.
Blower threw two touchdown passes in the first half and the defense handled the rest, as the Sailors cruised past Huntington Beach, 28-6, and ended a two-game skid.
Blower took the reins under center after the team's starting quarterback, Austin Rios, sat out due to suffering a concussion the previous week. By halftime, Blower threw for more yards (146) and touchdowns (two) than Rios has recorded in a game this season.
Rios, watching from the sideline in street clothes, applauded Blower's effort. Wide receiver Parker Norton said the team believed in Blower, who heading into last season competed for the starting job with Rios before Rios won it in training camp.
Blower most likely will return to his backup role next week, when Newport Harbor Coach Jeff Brinkley expects Rios to come back in time for a league game at Los Alamitos.
The level of competition for Newport Harbor (4-2, 1-0 in league) will be much higher against the Griffins (4-2, 1-0).
"That will be a big game," said Brinkley, who was happy to have senior right tackle Dillon Gillette and senior fullback/linebacker Ryan Andrews back from setbacks. "We'll enjoy this one for 24 hours and then get ready [for Los Alamitos]. We're 1-0 in league and that's all that matters."
The Oilers (4-2, 0-1) did not put up much of a fight in their return to the Sunset League.
Nine yards of offense is all the Sailors gave up in the first half. Newport Harbor defensive coordinator Tony Ciarelli's schemes created problems for his former school, Huntington Beach, which saw its four-game winning streak end.
The Oilers' next streak might be a losing one in league play. The Sunset League is much tougher than the Sea View League in which Huntington Beach competed in the past four seasons.
The Sailors picked off quarterback Mike Chislock four times. Two of those interceptions were by safety Kellon Truxton. The senior returned the second interception 17 yards for a touchdown, giving Newport Harbor a 28-0 lead midway through the third quarter.
Things got so bad for Chislock that he completed a pass to himself after defensive end Mutuvai Asi pressured the 6-foot-3 junior.
Newport Harbor's defense took it upon itself to make Blower's job at quarterback easier. Pitching a shutout until the 7:07 mark in the fourth quarter helped.
"We had to win this one," Truxton said after finishing with his first two-interception game and first pick six. "It was homecoming.
"We told Cole, 'This is your chance. You've just got to step up.' "
Blower rose to the occasion.
Truxton helped him settle in nicely with a first-quarter interception leading to the Sailors' first touchdown and a first-quarter hook-up as a wide receiver with Blower resulting in a 66-yard touchdown.
Taking the first-string reps at quarterback in practice for the entire week gave Blower plenty of time to prepare for the Oilers. He completed 10 of 15 passes without an interception.
The defense allowed Blower to settle in, not believing he had to do it all by himself.
Truxton made it possible for the Sailors to take the game's first lead. He intercepted Chislock's pass and returned it 35 yards to the Oilers' seven.
On first down, running back Drew Diller took a handoff for the first time in the game. Diller's first carry resulted in a seven-yard touchdown to give Newport Harbor a 7-0 lead four minutes into the contest.
Diller was in for a big night, 167 yards on 24 carries. It was a big improvement from last week's four-yard performance in a 17-6 loss at Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach.
The offensive line had a push with Gillette back from a concussion he suffered on Oct. 1. A strong ground game set up a play-action pass by Blower and the line gave him enough time, as he put the Tars ahead, 14-0, late in the first quarter. Blower hit Truxton in stride past midfield and the rest was history.
"We've had some adversity. Good things happen when you go through some things like this," said Brinkley, referring to losing running back Buzzy Yokoyama (knee) and Gillette (concussion) in the fourth game of the season, Andrews (shoulder) in a practice, then Rios (concussion) last week, and possibly Norton (ribs) on Friday. "It puts you in a position where you want to do something great, now is your chance."
Newport Harbor 28, Huntington Beach 6
SCORE BY QUARTERS
HB 0 – 0 – 0 – 6 — 6
Newport 14 – 7 – 7 – 0 — 28
NH – Diller 7 run (Ochoa kick), 8:23.
NH – Truxton 66 pass from Blower (Ochoa kick), 1:24.
NH – Norton 13 pass from Blower (Ochoa kick), 8:40.
NH – Truxton 17 interception return (Ochoa kick), 6:32.
HB – Umphreyville 1 run (kick failed), 7:07.
HB – Chavira, 15-66.
NH – Diller, 24-167, 1 TD.
HB – Chislock, 7-18-4, 35.
NH – Blower, 10-15-0, 146, 2 TDs.
HB – Mata, 8-49.
NH – Truxton, 3-79, 1 TD.