The 50th Battle of the Bay between Newport Harbor High and Corona del Mar turned out to be a football game to remember.
The Sailors rallied from 12 points down in the fourth quarter to upset the Sea Kings, 29-26, in front of a packed house at Orange Coast College on Friday night.
The victory was Newport Harbor's first of the season. It was a big one against CdM, ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division.
Newport Harbor Coach Jeff Brinkley compared the rivalry game to the 1992 edition known as the Battle the Bay II (the second meeting between the teams that season). Back then, the Sailors and Sea Kings met in the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division IV playoffs. Newport Harbor won, 28-21, and reached the first of seven section title games under Brinkley.
Newport Harbor, which won the Battle of the Bay for the fifth straight year, leads the series against CdM at 37-13.
Costa Mesa High senior running back Mario Smith rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries in the Mustangs' 34-31 nonleague win at Ocean View on Friday.
He also produced 118 yards on two kickoff returns, both of which led to touchdowns.
But he may have done more damage had he not sat out the first two offensive series for what Coach Wally Grant later said was a violation of team rules.
Grant said he scratches his head that Smith, who returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown on Sept. 16 against Katella, continues to get return opportunities.
"I can't believe people are still kicking off to [Smith]," Grant said. "As long as they do, I'll keep him back there."
Corona del Mar tried to come back for the third time in as many weeks, but the Sea Kings couldn't pull it off, losing for the first time under Coach Scott Meyer.
The Sea Kings (3-1) lost by three points, and if it weren't for four missed scoring opportunities, they never would have trailed against Newport Harbor.
Two missed extra-point kicks, a missed 38-yard field-goal attempt, and being stopped on the opponent's one-yard line cost CdM.
The biggest setback was the goal-line stand right before halftime. The Sea Kings, leading, 20-14, reached Newport Harbor's six. Three runs got them to the one.
Facing a fourth-and-goal, CdM called a timeout with 14 seconds left. The Sea Kings decided to go for a touchdown, rather than kick a field goal.
They never made it into the end zone.
CdM was without its starting kicker, Grant Garrett, who only played defense. The substitute kicker had missed a long extra-point kick four minutes earlier.
In the third quarter, CdM's field-goal try from 38 yards went wide left. An extra-point kick after the Sea Kings went up, 26-14, late in the third quarter was no good.
University High may have run for 306 yards in Friday's 30-22 upset victory over Estancia, but the Eagles also had their most success of the young season running the ball.
Junior running back Robert Murtha had a season-high 185 yards rushing on 25 carries, including a 59-yard touchdown. But his most impressive run may have been a three-yard gain late in the second quarter.
Murtha was stood up near the line of scrimmage by University's Mark Krant but, using pure strength, pushed Krant back enough to convert a fourth-and-two situation.
Eagles junior Deionte Haywood, who has been typically used as a fullback, also had season-highs in yards (27) and carries (five), part of the Eagles' 236 rushing yards.
In one game, tailback Titus Hasson surpassed Newport Harbor's rushing total of 190 yards through the first two contests.
The senior recorded 191 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. One of his scores came in the fourth quarter, helping the Sailors rally to beat CdM.
Hasson scored on a 36-yard run to open the fourth quarter, cutting CdM's lead to 26-21. On the previous carry, coming in the third quarter, Hasson hit the 100-yard mark on the ground.
Only one other player carried the ball once for Newport Harbor.
A huge play for Costa Mesa came late in the third quarter on the kickoff after the Mustangs had taken a 27-24 lead.
Senior 140-pound kicker Peter Marquez held his ground and made a touchdown-saving tackle on a 51-yard return by Ocean View's Tua Falelaulii to the Costa Mesa 39-yard line.
Two plays later, Mesa cornerback Trace Curet intercepted a pass.
The Sea Kings rushed for a season-high 207 yards. They used the Wildcat at times with Aaron White and it was effective at times.
White produced 70 yards rushing on 10 carries.
Erik Fisher, CdM's leading rusher who totaled 76 yards on 15 carries, didn't score a touchdown for the first time this season.
Newport Harbor senior Steve Michaelsen caught the game-winning touchdown pass and made two crucial sacks in the fourth quarter.
Michaelsen's five-yard touchdown grab from quarterback Cole Blower put the Sailors ahead, 27-26, with 2:48 left. A two-point conversion pass by Blower gave Newport Harbor a three-point lead.
Michaelsen played a vital role in the Sailors shutting down CdM in the fourth quarter. The bigger of his two sacks came with the Sea Kings in a third-and-10 situation, on which the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Michaelsen produced a 16-yard sack to the Sea Kings' 15-yard line.
On the next play, cornerback Landon Gyulay intercepted a pass near midfield with 78 seconds left to secure the Sailors' victory.
Newport Harbor has a chance at getting to 2-2 when it plays at San Clemente (4-0), ranked No. 4 in the CIF Pac-5 Division, on Friday. The Tritons defeated Mater Dei, 28-21, in overtime on Friday.
University High is in Irvine, but at least two of the Trojans' coaches have Costa Mesa ties.
Not only is former Costa Mesa head coach Jeremy Osso the Trojans' offensive line coach, but Uni head coach Mark Cunningham is also a Costa Mesa resident.
"I love the city," said Cunningham, who battled throat cancer that caused him to miss the first five games of the 2010 season. "I couldn't be happier with where I live, and I'm not putting a slight on Irvine."
Cunningham, in his 26th year at University, said Jim Scott Stadium is a great place to play. He said his school is breaking ground on an on-campus stadium in May.
For the fourth straight year, CdM was unable to start 4-0. The Sailors have stood in the way each year in the fourth game of the season.
The last the time Sea Kings began 4-0 was in 1989, when they went on to win the CIF Southern Section Division VI title.
Estancia, which fell from No. 5 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division to No. 10 after Friday's loss, is in the midst of three straight games against Pacific Coast League schools before kicking off Orange Coast League play.
Coach Mike Bargas has been a proponent of the tough schedule. All three teams are from Irvine. Unranked University appeared to be the team the Eagles had the best chance to beat.
The Eagles play two of the top three teams in the division next: Northwood (No. 3) on Thursday and top-ranked Beckman on Oct. 6. The T'wolves and Patriots made it to the 2010 Southern Division semis and final, respectively.
— From staff reports