MANHATTAN BEACH — Leading up to Newport Harbor High's football game on Friday, Coach Jeff Brinkley said he talked to the opposing coach. Brinkley and Don Morrow, the coach at Mira Costa of Manhattan Beach, know each other well.
Before their teams met for the ninth straight year, Morrow gave Brinkley some flattering words. Morrow watched the film of the Sailors' 28-7 upset win last week of San Clemente, a CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division finalist last year.
"In terms of watching our film, he thought that was the game he said that really looked like our old Newport Harbor teams," Brinkley said.
The Sailors were unable to continue with their old brand of successful football for the second straight week.
Their physical ground game, stout defense and sound special teams disappeared. As did the Sailors' two-game winning streak as they lost the nonleague game at Mira Costa, 26-14.
The road contest was the first for Newport Harbor (2-3), ranked No. 9 in the Southwest Division. What Brinkley learned is that his team has a ways to go before it opens Sunset League play next week against No. 2 Edison.
"We're just going to have to get better if we're going to compete in the Sunset League," said Brinkley, whose team starts league against the defending league champion and a program it last beat 33 years ago.
"We broke down [in] a lot of areas [against Mira Costa]. We didn't play very well in any aspect of the game, really."
After only scoring three points in the first half, the Mustangs dominated the rest of the way. They stopped tailback Talalelei Teaupa 20 yards short of recording his fourth straight 100-yard performance on the ground for the Sailors.
The Mustangs (3-2), ranked No. 7 in the Northern Division, ran wild. Their veer offense went through Raphael Lawson-Gayle, who burned the Sailors for 218 yards and one touchdown on 21 carries.
Lawson-Gayle produced 100 rushing yards in both halves. The second half featured him finding the end zone twice, once on a three-yard run in the third quarter to give the Mustangs a 10-7 lead, their first of the game.
His second touchdown, coming midway through the fourth quarter, put away Newport Harbor. It all happened after the Sailors broke down on special teams for the second time in a 13-second span.
After a snap sailed over the punter's head and into the back of the end zone for a safety, Newport Harbor kicked. The Sailors trailed, 19-14, until they booted the ball in the direction of Lawson-Gayle.
Morrow saw the play develop seconds after Lawson-Gayle fielded the ball at the 31.
"I had an angle right behind where Raphael was and you see this wall suddenly just set up," Morrow said. "It's just a gorgeous thing."
Lawson-Gayle put the finishing touch on the return, taking it back 69 yards for a touchdown. It wasn't the longest gain of the night for the senior.
On the Mustangs first play from scrimmage, he almost went the distance. Lawson-Gayle took a handoff to the left and then broke loose.
With his speed, catching him on the sideline looked impossible. Somehow, the Sailors got an angle on Lawson-Gayle and they stopped him 12 yards short of the end zone. He gained 72 yards on the run.
The stop was huge as the Mustangs turned the ball over three plays later. Any time you have a third-string quarterback in the game, simple duties like handing the ball off can be an issue. And it was for Greg Briskin, who fumbled and the Sailors pounced on the ball near the five-yard line.
The mistake cost Mira Costa any chance at points. Another miscue late in the first half cost the Mustangs a possible touchdown.
Instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal on the opponent's two, a false start by Mira Costa forced it to think otherwise. The Mustangs settled for a 24-yard field goal by Casey Sublette with 69 seconds left in the first half.
Newport Harbor went into halftime with a 7-3 lead. Teaupa found the end zone on a 23-yard run four minutes into the second quarter, putting the Sailors up.
That would be the last time they led. A third straight win against a ranked opponent wasn't going to happen.
Mira Costa 26, Newport Harbor 14
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport 0 – 7 – 0 – 7 – 14
Mira Costa 0 – 3 – 14 – 9 – 26
NH – Teaupa 23 run (Schultz kick), 8:11.
MC – Sublette 24 kick, 1:09.
MC – Lawson-Gayle 3 run (Sublette kick), 7:32.
MC – Mills 1 run (Sublette kick), 1:30.
NH – Gyulay 80 pass from Norris (Schultz kick), 10:28.
MC – Safety: punt snap goes to the back of end zone, 6:17.
MC – Lawson-Gayle 69 kick return, 6:04.
NH – Teaupa, 21-80, 1 TD.
MC – Lawson-Gayle, 21-218, 1 TD.
NH – Norris, 14-23-2, 178, 1 TD.
MC – Briskin, 7-11-0, 95.
NH – Gyulay, 6-108, 1 TD.
MC – Lawson-Gayle, 4-48.