NEWPORT BEACH — Coach Jeff Brinkley cannot really explain why his Newport Harbor High football team has played well against Los Alamitos in four of the last five years.
The Sailors just have since rejoining the Sunset League five years ago.
With the Sailors backs against the wall at home Friday night, Brinkley needed them to make it a game against the Griffins again. Not many picked the Sailors to beat the defending league champions.
Eric Tweit, the school's former athletic director, came over and pointed that out to Brinkley, who was all smiles.
"It wasn't the low-scoring game that I talked about," Brinkley told Tweit after his Sailors defeated Los Alamitos, 35-21.
Brinkley will take the result because it puts Newport Harbor (4-4, 2-1 in league) back in the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoff picture.
With two league games left, Newport Harbor shares second place with Huntington Beach. Heading into Friday, the Sailors shared it with Los Alamitos.
Titus Hasson was a reason why Newport Harbor distanced itself from the Griffins (5-3, 1-2). The speedy tailback recorded a career-best 258 yards on 35 carries, scoring on runs of 73 and three yards.
Hasson also turned a little flip pass into a 23-yard touchdown right before halftime. The Sailors went into the break with a 28-7 lead. Brinkley noticed a different team than the one that suffered its first setback in league last week at Huntington Beach.
"This is a big win, a big win for this class, and really for the program if we can keep this going," said Brinkley, knowing a win against Marina next week most likely clinches one of the league's three playoff berths. "After last week, when people were feeling pretty down, for them to bounce back like that and play a great ballgame, that was awesome.
"It was all or nothing. Now, at least we have a chance [to return to the playoffs for a third straight season]. We wouldn't have had a chance [with a loss]."
Brinkley led the Sailors past Orange County's winningest coach, John Barnes, who has 288 career victories. Not many coaches have a winning record against Barnes, but Brinkley does.
Newport Harbor improved to 4-2 against the Griffins under Brinkley's watch. The one place the Sailors have never lost to Los Alamitos is at Davidson Field. They're now 3-0 after holding off Los Alamitos, which scored two touchdowns in the third quarter and cut the deficit to 28-21.
The result gave Brinkley his 212nd win at Newport Harbor, tying him for the seventh-best total in the county with Bill Craven of Pacifica.
The start was what Brinkley was looking for after last week's 35-7 loss to the Oilers. The Sailors marched 70 yards on 10 plays on the game's opening drive.
The Sailors stayed on the ground, running eight times. Hasson carried seven times, none of the runs went for more than nine yards, but the biggest was a three-yard touchdown run.
Hasson was on his way to a career night. The defense gave him more opportunities, as the Sailors stopped Los Alamitos twice on fourth-and-short situations in Newport Harbor territory in the first half.
The first was on the Sailors' four. The Griffins went to their little tailback, Cody Paul, who tried to bounce a run out to the right, but defensive end Steve Michaelsen used his long 6-foot-5 frame and dragged Paul down from behind for a one-yard loss.
Paul almost appeared to break loose on a punt return three minutes later.
The senior had trouble fielding the punt, bobbling before picking it up. He then took off toward the Griffins' sideline for a 52-yard touchdown. A holding penalty nullified the big return.
After Los Alamitos ran nine plays and reached the opponent's 38, it faced a fourth-and-two.
The Griffins went for it, trying a wide receiver screen, which linebacker Grant Frazier read perfectly. Frazier made the tackle at the line of scrimmage and the Sailors held for the second time in the first half.
While the defense zeroed in on Hasson, quarterback Cole Blower went to the air. The senior threw a 41-yard pass to receiver Landon Gyulay, who hauled in the catch while being bumped near the sideline.
Two plays later, Blower threw a gem across the field, hitting receiver Kory Cablay for a 20-yard touchdown.
Blower was a perfect six-of-six passing for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.
One of those passes went to Hasson. It wasn't pretty, as Blower flipped the ball to his left to Hasson before going down.
The play worked for a 23-yard touchdown. Everything seemed to work for the Sailors when Hasson touched the ball.
Things seem to work in Newport Harbor's favor whenever it plays Los Alamitos.
Newport Harbor 35, Los Alamitos 21
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Los Alamitos 0 - 7 - 0 - 14 – 21
Newport Harbor 7 - 21 - 0 - 7 – 35
NH – Hasson 4 run (Ochoa kick), 7:29.
NH – Cablay 20 pass from Blower (Ochoa kick), 6:42.
LA – Roberts 15 pass from Lagarde (Beighton kick), 1:52.
NH – Hasson 73 run (Ochoa kick), 7:29.
NH – Hasson 23 pass from Blower (Ochoa kick), 0:16.
LA – Coppock 18 pass from Lagarde (Beighton kick), 10:17.
LA – Paul 15 run (Beighton kick), 3:32.
NH – Swies 5 run (Ochoa kick), 0:21.
LA – Paul, 21-120, 1 TD.
NH – Hasson, 35-258, 2 TDs.
LA – Lagarde, 19-37-2, 207, 2 TDs.
NH – Blower, 8-9-0, 133, 1 TD.
LA – Caiquo, 6-85.
NH – Cablay, 3-50, 1 TD.