NEWPORT BEACH — The comeback was nearly miraculous.
The Corona del Mar High football team was on the verge of rallying from a 32-point fourth-quarter deficit in its most important game of the year so far.
A Pacific Coast League title was on the line. The Sea Kings almost pulled off the kind of stunner that they'd talk about with their grandkids one day.
But the last onside kick went squarely into the hands of Beckman's Elijah Steen with less than a minute to go. On Veterans Day, the Patriots would not be denied, capturing the first league title in program history with a 42-37 victory at Newport Harbor High.
Corona del Mar was denied its second straight outright league title, finishing second in league. The top-ranked Sea Kings more-than-likely will also lose that top overall seed in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs to the No. 2 Patriots, when the brackets are released at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.
CdM came so close after outscoring Beckman, 27-0, in the fourth quarter.
"I would love nothing more than to see them again in the [CIF] finals," CdM senior Cole Cottrell said of the Patriots, who topped the Sea Kings, 24-3, in last year's semifinals.
Cottrell nearly brought CdM (8-2, 4-1 in league) all the way back with his feet. His 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter was the first time the Sea Kings found the end zone.
CdM got two fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns by Erik Fisher, as well as an onside kick recovery by Connor Sage. Then Cottrell's 79-yard punt return for a touchdown brought the Sea Kings within 42-31 midway through the fourth quarter.
It gave CdM hope after Beckman (8-2, 5-0) got its second interception return for a touchdown of the night late in the third quarter. Beckman senior captain Bryan Dewey, a linebacker, rumbled in from 35-yards out, giving the guests a 42-10 edge.
Senior quarterback Cameron Biedgoly also had two short touchdown runs for Beckman.
"It was tough," Cottrell said. "We didn't decide to come out and play defense until the fourth quarter, and that really hurt us. It was really unlike us, coming out tonight and not playing the hard-nosed defense we normally play."
The pick-six was the second interception of the game for Dewey, and the fourth for Beckman's defense. CdM came into the league finale having thrown just seven interceptions all year.
"We just had to stay strong," Dewey said. "We feel like we're the backbone of our team, on [defense]. When we do well, our team does well, and we have a pretty good defensive front with No. 73 Khodadod Kia (6-foot, 270 pounds). He's a big kid, and it makes it a lot easier for us 'backers. And our DBs were just amazing in the second half."
Linebacker James Kaprielian and defensive back Brian Brooks also had interceptions for the Patriots, who held CdM to 12-of-35 passing and a season-low 123 passing yards.
It almost wasn't enough. After CdM's defense forced Beckman into a three-and-out with 1:31 left, Cottrell returned the ensuing punt 74 yards, all the way to the Patriots three-yard line. Two plays later senior quarterback Brent Lawson found senior receiver Josh Giger on a touchdown pass, bringing the Sea Kings within five points at 42-37.
A two-point conversion pass was unsuccessful, but the Sea Kings still had hope if they could recover Grant Garrett's third onside kick of the game. Steen foiled that plan, falling on the ball with 37 seconds left.
Beckman ran the ball successfully all night with Brooks (147 yards) and Jeff Kim (116). Each had a rushing touchdown in the historic win for the Patriots, who won their seventh straight game.
"[Winning league] feels great, especially as a senior," Dewey said. "This has been our goal since we were freshmen, and now part one is complete. We've just got to finish part two and win a CIF championship."
The Sea Kings wouldn't mind adding another chapter to the budding rivalry in the CIF championship game.
"All year long, they've never, ever quit, no matter what the score is," CdM Coach Scott Meyer said. "Tonight we just put ourselves in a little bit too big of a hole to come back. But we still almost did."
Beckman 42, Corona del Mar 37
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Beckman 7 – 14 – 21 – 0 — 42
CdM 3 – 0– 7 – 27 — 37
CdM – Garrett 36 FG, 6:50.
Beck – Kim 1 run (Molina kick), 0:54.
Beck – Biedgoly 1 run (Molina kick), 8:11.
Beck – Kaprielian 50 interception return (Molina kick), 7:42.
Beck – Biedgoly 3 run (Molina kick), 7:32.
CdM – Cottrell 90 kickoff return (Garrett kick), 7:18.
Beck – Brooks 77 run (Molina kick), 6:28.
Beck – Dewey 35 interception return (Molina kick), 1:15.
CdM – Fisher 7 run (Garrett kick), 8:50.
CdM – Fisher 9 run (Garrett kick), 7:58.
CdM – Cottrell 79 punt return (Garrett kick), 5:31.
CdM – Giger 8 pass from Lawson (pass failed), 0:39.
Beck – Brooks, 15-147, 1 TD.
CdM – Fisher, 18-84, 2 TDs.
Beck – Biedgoly, 9-12-0, 119.
CdM – Lawson , 12-35-4, 123, 1 TD.
Beck – Molina, 1-41.
CdM – Reese, 4-57.