COSTA MESA — Coach Jeff Brinkley turned 59 years old on Wednesday. His Newport Harbor High football team gave him his birthday gift a couple of days late.
The wait was worth it to Brinkley. The present turned out to be a classic one Friday night, a victory in the 50th Battle of the Bay.
Make that the Sailors' first win of the season.
Newport Harbor came from behind to defeat host Corona del Mar, 29-26, in front of a packed house at Orange Coast College. Brinkley was all smiles, hugging and shaking hands with everyone in sight.
"We needed this one," said Brinkley, whose team bounced back after starting the season 0-2 for the first time in 29 years.
Getting the first victory wasn't easy, but the Sailors pulled it off, knocking off Back Bay rival CdM for the fifth straight year. This one can be considered an upset, with CdM going into the game 3-0 and ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division.
Newport Harbor running back Titus Hasson broke out in a big way. While Hasson carried the Sailors' offense, rushing 27 times for a career-high 191 yards and two touchdowns, quarterback Cole Blower, who threw for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 12-of-16 passing, delivered when it mattered most.
Blower went four-of-four passing on the Sailors' game-winning drive. The drive started midway through the fourth quarter on Newport Harbor's own 12, and it ended with the senior finding the biggest target on the field, tight end Steve Michaelsen.
With the Sea Kings worried about the shifty Hasson, who three plays earlier broke off a 41-yard run down CdM's sideline, Brinkley called a play-action pass on third-and-goal on the five-yard line. Blower faked the handoff to the right, and the defense bit. All alone in the corner of the end zone was the 6-foot-5 Michaelsen, who hauled in Blower's second touchdown pass of the game.
Michaelsen dropped a pass earlier. He wasn't letting go of this one. His first career touchdown gave the Sailors a 27-26 lead with 2:48 left to play.
Instead of attempting the extra-point kick to go up by two points, the Sailors wanted a three-point lead. They went for a two-point conversion and Blower hit Kory Cablay on an out pattern to the left. The Sailors' side erupted.
CdM had its chances. The Sea Kings had two missed extra-point kicks and a missed 38-yard field-goal attempt.
Also, Newport Harbor's defense stepped up just before halftime. The Sailors stuffed CdM on fourth-and-goal from the Newport Harbor one-yard line right before halftime.
The Sea Kings missed on a possible 12 points. They still had a chance late.
After going ahead, Newport Harbor kicker Christian Ochoa booted the ball away from kick returner Cole Cottrell, who burned the Sailors on a 95-yard touchdown return in the second quarter. Ochoa's ball went for a touchback.
The Sea Kings began at their own 20-yard line, but they went backward. Michaelsen made sure of it, as he sacked quarterback Brent Lawson for a 16-yard loss on third down. Lawson, who hurt the Sailors on the ground at times, rushing for 61 yards and one touchdown, couldn't elude the defensive end.
Facing a fourth-and-26 situation, Lawson went to his favorite target of the night, Troy Reese. The two had hooked up five times for 89 yards and two touchdowns.
In need of a first down to keep the drive alive, Lawson threw a jump ball to the 6-3 Reese near midfield, but the smaller player, cornerback Landon Gyulay, leaped and intercepted the pass. That was it. The defense didn't allow Lawson to complete a pass in his final seven attempts.
The Sea Kings' first turnover ended any chance at a third straight comeback win in as many weeks. More importantly, Brinkley, in his 26th year with the Sailors, got his birthday gift in the form of a much-needed win.
Newport Harbor 29, Corona del Mar 26
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport Harbor 0- 14 - 0 - 15 – 29
Corona del Mar 7- 13 - 6 - 0 – 26
CdM – Reese 18 pass from Lawson (Napolitano kick), 8:34.
NH – Hasson 6 run (Ochoa kick), 11:13.
CdM – Cottrell 95 kick return (Napolitano kick), 10:58.
NH – Cablay 25 pass from Blower (Ochoa kick), 9:34.
CdM – Reese 32 pass from Lawson (kick failed), 4:22.
CdM – Lawson 3 run (kick failed), 2:06.
NH – Hasson 36 run (Ochoa kick), 11:52.
NH – Michaelsen 8 pass from Blower (Cablay pass from Blower), 2:48.
NH - Hasson, 27-191, 2 TDs.
CdM - Fisher, 15-76.
NH - Blower, 12-16-0, 143, 2 TDs.
CdM - Lawson, 8-19-1, 138, 2 TDs.
NH - Gyulay, 3-76.
CdM - Reese, 5-89, 2 TDs.