A feeling of déjà vu had to have been creeping up on the Corona del Mar High football team Friday.
A week after a long touchdown strike in the closing minute put their lead over Pacific Coast League foe Beckman in jeopardy, the Sea Kings faced a last-minute threat from CIF Southern Section Southern Division first-round playoff foe Ocean View at Orange Coast College.
And, just like the Beckman game, in which senior end Alex Herrera gave chase to force an incomplete two-point pass in the end zone that ensured a 17-15 CdM win, the Sea Kings defense rose to the occasion against an Ocean View team that was attempting to move in for a potential score with the game on the line.
Holding on to a 21-13 lead in the waning moments, Ocean View was at the CdM 16-yard line when quarterback Nolan Tippy delivered a pass to receiver Josh Clay at the goal line.
Clay appeared to be in position to make the catch but was denied the ball when CdM junior cornerback Cole Cottrell stepped in front of Clay to break up the pass. The ball fell to the ground with eight seconds left. The Sea Kings took over, ran out the clock and ran toward a second-round date Friday against Anaheim.
"Cole came up with a big play there at the end to stop them," CdM Coach Jason Hitchens said. "I thought our defense again stepped up big when we needed a stop."
Cottrell, who this fall has four interceptions and revealed he set the school record for punt return yardage (297, to date), was also on man coverage in the end zone on Beckman's failed two-point pass Nov. 12.
"Basically, it came down to the same situation," Cottrell said. "I looked up to see that the ball was coming to me again and I knew I had to do whatever was needed to help our team get the win.
"Major props to [Clay] for getting open. I was fortunate to be able to get in position to knock the ball down. It felt like the ball took so long to get there and it was a very relieving feeling when I saw it hit the ground."
*Newport Harbor High lost at Alemany of Mission Hills, 27-7, in the first round of the CIF Pac-5 Division playoffs Friday, making it two straight years the Sailors have lost in the opening round.
The Sailors (6-5) had two opportunities in the red zone in the first half to tie Alemany (11-0) or cut the deficit to four points. They missed on each chance.
On its first possession, Newport Harbor turned the ball over on an interception on the Warriors' one. Then on the Sailors' final possession of the half, they missed a 42-yard field-goal try as time expired. Alemany went into halftime ahead, 14-7.
The Warriors opened the second half with a 13-play, 90-yard scoring drive that took 6 minutes, 3 seconds off the clock. The 13-play drive was Alemany's second of the game.
Alemany took advantage of an onside kick it recovered on the opening kickoff and two Newport Harbor turnovers. The onside kick led to seven points and the turnovers to 14 points.
*The Sage Hill School football team kept its collective head high after Friday's 45-27 loss to a bigger Twentynine Palms team, in the opening round of the CIF East Valley Division playoffs.
After losing 15 seniors from a year ago, this year's team had just six, including Randall Mycorn, Taylor Ross, Tanner Etherton, Kevin Gregg, Max Whitaker and T.J. Danner. But the Lightning (8-3) finished second in the Academy League and nearly beat St. Margaret's for the first time in program history.
Second-year coach J.R. Tolver said he would have been happy if this year's team went 5-5, but instead the Lightning won eight games, improving on last year's seven wins. Tolver said he knew this year's team could accomplish plenty after rallying from 17 points down in the final three minutes to stun Tri-City Christian, 33-31, in a nonleague game Sept. 10.
"Great year for us," Tolver said. "It doesn't feel that way right now, but to go [8-3] and to make the playoffs, and to ride the back of our seniors, was a special thing for our kids. I'm very proud of them. [The Tri-City game] was a sign of not necessarily the talent of our team, but the character of our team. That day, our character as a team was revealed. The kids knew it, and the coaches knew it."
*Estancia High Coach Mike Bargas said he understands those who think his Eagles and other Orange Coast League teams might find further futility competing in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs.
But while Bargas refuses to back down from the challenge of playing in a division with what has clearly been stronger competition, it can be argued that it is time to shift the Orange Coast League into a division in which it can find better competitive equity.
Since being formed in 2006, Orange Coast teams have played 14 playoff games, losing 13. Only Laguna Beach, which posted a 39-14 first-round win over Santa Ana in 2008, has won a playoff game under the OCL banner.
In those 14 games, Orange Coast teams have been outscored an average of 38.3 points to 14.5. In an 0-3 first round this season, playoff opponents outscored the Orange Coast League teams a combined 161-50.
*Cottrell's play was one of several big stops that have become custom for the CdM defense.
"We definitely feel the chemistry on defense," he said. "It's a lot different feeling than last year. We have great senior leaders in Preston Risser, Jon Metcalfe, Alex Herrera and Austin Jones and we have a great supporting cast. Everyone is willing to help each other out."
With the game coming down to the final seconds and Ocean View within striking distance, CdM receiver Brent Gray said he had the utmost trust in the Sea Kings defense.
"I always feel confident in our defense," the senior said. "I feel we have the best defense in our division.
"It was great to see Cole make that play. He's a great athlete and a great kid. He always seems to come up with a big play."
*Sage Hill's Ross surpassed 100 yards on his last carry at Tri-City Christian, an eight-yard touchdown run with 45 seconds to go. It was insignificant to the final outcome, but passing the 100-yard mark was noteworthy.
Ross, who finished the season with a school-record 1,867 rushing yards, went over at least 100 yards in all 11 games.
He finished his four-year career with school records of 2,805 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns.
*Estancia sophomore tailback Robert Murtha broke the school single-season rushing record with 1,651 yards in his first varsity season this fall. If he can remain healthy and continue to get help from Eagles blockers, Murtha should take aim at the Newport-Mesa career record of 4,333 rushing yards established by Binh "Runaway" Tran who starred at Costa mesa from 1991 to 1993.
*Junior Buzzy Yokoyama finished his first season as the Newport Harbor starting tailback with 1,242 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
The numbers are impressive considering the junior missed three games with a dislocated right kneecap. Yokoyama averaged more than seven yards per carry.
*Newport Harbor senior receiver Parker Norton hauled in 10 balls for 70 yards against Alemany, giving him 63 catches for 555 yards in 2010.
*CdM's Gray came up with some big plays, as well, none bigger than the 34-yard touchdown pass he took in from quarterback Mitch Gardner down the CdM sideline late in the first half.
That play, along with Andrew Boehm's conversion kick, gave the Sea Kings the lead for good at 14-13 with 2:49 left in the first half.
It was Gray's ninth TD reception of the season.
He had 92 yards on five receptions in the win over Ocean View.
"It's always great to contribute to our team," Gray said. "[Gardner] and I grew up together, played football since we were kids and we have always clicked. He's a very good quarterback. I feel confident every time he throws my way. I know his throws will always be on the numbers."
*Newport Harbor made its 19th postseason appearance since 1986 under Coach Jeff Brinkley.
*Sage Hill's Mycorn, a quarterback and safety, also said he was so proud of Sage's senior class. Two of the six players, linemen Max Whitaker and Kevin Gregg, hadn't even played football before this season. Whitaker, a two-way starter this year, previously played water polo for three years.
"We convinced him, because he's so big, to play football," Mycorn said. "We were like, 'Yeah, you can butt heads around there, you'll have some fun.' We didn't think he'd be as good as he was this year. We didn't think he'd start both ways and hardly ever come off the field."
— From staff reports