Rios stepping up

Austin Rios almost went six weeks without throwing a touchdown pass. When he finally found the end zone last week, a newspaper did not even give the Newport Harbor High quarterback the credit.

Rios actually threw a season-high three touchdowns that night. The paper instead wrote about Rios' older brother, Alex.

Keep in mind that Alex is in junior college and when he last suited up on the football field as a Sailor, he protected the quarterback.

The next day, after Rios kept Newport Harbor's CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoff hopes alive by leading the Sailors to a 41-0 victory against Marina in a Sunset League game, Rios received a text message from Alex.

"It looks like I had a good game. Have you seen the paper?" Rios said the message read.

Rios laughed and responded with, "Congratulations!"

The next text Rios wants from Alex is one congratulating him for helping the Sailors return to the postseason.

Newport Harbor (5-4, 2-2 in league) is in a must-win situation tonight against Fountain Valley (3-5-1, 1-3) if plans to earn the league's third and final playoff berth. The final regular-season game kicks off at 7 at Huntington Beach High.

Rios can be the first Newport Harbor quarterback to guide the program to back-to-back Pac-5 Division playoff appearances. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound senior likes his chances.

"If Coach [Jeff] Brinkley said at the beginning of the season, 'You beat Fountain Valley and you're in the playoffs,' I would've taken it," Rios said.

That is the situation Rios and the Sailors find themselves. They are facing a program that has upset Newport Harbor the past two seasons.

Each contest at Newport Harbor was close, 37-32 last year and 22-21 two years ago. Each loss nearly kept the Sailors out of the playoffs altogether. They qualified last year as an at-large entry after finishing tied for second place in league with two other teams.

When the Sailors split the league title two years ago with three other teams, they failed to reach the postseason. Rios, a back-up quarterback back then, remembers how they lost out after a sportswriter pulled school names out of a bucket and Newport Harbor was not one of the three schools called.

"We're definitely [looking for revenge]," Rios said. "They put us off out the playoff two years ago, when my brother was a senior. This is one [game] we want."

Rios is coming off his best performance of the season, completing 10 of 13 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

He appears to be back to his junior form, when he earned Newport-Mesa Dream Team and second-team All-Sunset League honors after throwing for 1,274 yards and 15 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. The numbers this year — 866 yards and six touchdowns — are not as high as last year's totals, but a concussion Rios suffered in the fifth game of the season and seeing running back Buzzy Yokoyama go down with a knee injury the week before affected the team's passing game.

Rios missed the second half of the Oct. 8 game at Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach because of the head injury. He sat out the league opener the following week against Huntington Beach for precautionary reasons.

Rios said he wanted to play in that game. After the doctor and his family decided it was in the best interest for Rios' health to skip the game, Rios said he felt like he never had before a game and he was not even going to play.

"It was weird. I told [my replacement] Cole [Blower] that I had never been so nervous and anxious," said Rios, who saw Blower step in and get Newport Harbor a 28-6 win against the Oilers. "Usually when I play, I don't feel nervous because I feel I have control of the outcome. It was nerve-racking for me to watch.

"I feel good now and I'm excited to get back out there."

Tonight marks Rios' fourth straight start at quarterback since the concussion. Just a reminder, he will be the one throwing the ball, while Alex will cheer him on.

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