Cole Norris couldn't even win the Mini Battle of the Bay as a freshman at Newport Harbor High last year.
In the varsity rivalry game last week, the Sailors turned to the sophomore to lead the way.
Yeah, you bet the quarterback was a little nervous. You would have been as well. Norris' first start on varsity came in the biggest football game in town, the Battle of the Bay against Corona del Mar.
He stepped in for Zach Wade, the injured starting quarterback. Coaches always told Norris he was one play away from proving he can play on this level.
The backup got his chance in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,000 at Davidson Field.
With less than three minutes left, there was Norris with a shot to engineer a game-winning drive. The task – drive the team 95 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Sailors gave the keys to their offense to a 15-year-old, who walks home from school. Before Norris walked back on the field, with his team down five points, one of his former lower-level coaches said something to him.
"He just kept telling me he believed in me and he knew I could do it, and just to lead the team," Norris said of Kirk Norton. "He was with me every step."
The Sailors and the home fans stood by Norris throughout.
His nervousness from the start seemed to fade. Tailback Talalelei Teaupa checked, just to make sure. He asked Norris, "Are you ready?" Teaupa said he could tell the quarterback was prepared because he was his usual quiet and humble self.
Norris was ready to experience what Coach Jeff Brinkley said to him and the rest of the Sailors before the final play of a 17-play drive.
"Get ready to have the celebration of your life," Brinkley said during a timeout.
"We had to stay positive … and make sure they believed it was going to happen."
Based on what the Sailors faced, it would be easy for them to believe they had no chance. They were in a fourth-and-goal situation on the Sea Kings' 22 with 31 seconds left to play.
The odds looked stacked against Newport Harbor. With one play left, Brinkley just asked Norris to give one of his wide receivers a chance to make a play.
The unlikeliest of targets that night made that play.
Norris decided to pass to Cory Stowell for the first time. Norris said he never saw whether Stowell caught the pass in the end zone because a defender hit Norris.
"I just kind of like threw the ball where he was supposed to be," Norris said of Stowell, who ran an outside post and managed to get behind the coverage.
When Norris heard the Sailor faithful erupt, he said he knew what he had just done. He completed a game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass to lift the Sailors to a 27-26 win, their first of the season.
Norris made sure Brinkley avoided his first 0-3 start in his 27 years with the Sailors. Brinkley no longer shares the No. 5 spot when it comes to career wins (214) as a coach in Orange County.
"[I'm] never going to forget that moment," said Norris, who threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-26 passing.
The final drive was a memorable one for Norris.
He completed eight of 14 passes during the drive. The two biggest completions came on fourth-down situations.
Quest Truxton remembers the Sea Kings' secondary getting in his face on the first fourth down attempt. The jawing stopped a little after Norris converted a first down on fourth-and-six by hitting Landon Gyulay for a 12-yard gain.
Truxton and Gyulay caught three passes each for a combined 80 yards during the drive. The two are the top receivers on the team, yet Norris went to someone else at the end.
Before that last play, Truxton glanced over at the Sea Kings' sideline.
"Their whole sideline was linked [by] arms, ready to storm the field," Truxton said. "As soon as we scored, their whole crowd was silent and our crowd just goes nuts. That was a great feeling."
Norris said it was a surreal feeling, leading the Sailors to a comeback win. There was nothing "mini" about this Battle of the Bay for him.
Born: May 12, 1997
Hometown: Newport Beach
Height: 6 foot
Weight: 175 pounds
Coach: Jeff Brinkley
Favorite food: Chicken
Favorite movie: "21 Jump Street"
Favorite athletic moment: "The Battle of the Bay game. [It] can't get much better than that."
Week in review: Norris threw a game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 24 seconds left, lifting Newport Harbor to a 27-26 victory against Corona del Mar in the Battle of the Bay game. He finished with 245 yards and two TDs on 14-of-26 passing.