Playing with a bruised kidney and lung, Cole Norris looked beat, but not defeated. The junior went into halftime with his team, Newport Harbor High, down by 10 points.
The game plan in the first half didn't work much against Fountain Valley on Friday. Coach Jeff Brinkley told his staff during the break that the Sailors needed to come out and throw the ball.
Norris turned it on in the final two quarters. His right arm proved to be more than enough for the Sailors to get back into contention for a Sunset League title.
Norris threw two of his three touchdowns in the second half, rallying Newport Harbor to a 42-25 win at Davidson Field. In the process, the Sailors handed the Barons their first league setback.
With the victory, the Sailors (4-4, 2-1 in league) are back atop the league with two games left. It's a logjam with Newport Harbor, Edison, Los Alamitos and Fountain Valley sharing first place, but the Sailors will take it.
"It's not very often you get a second chance," Brinkley said. "After [Los Alamitos beat Edison on Thursday] night, we were in that position and the kids took advantage."
The Sailors took down the league's only unbeaten team. Norris led the way, completing 17 of 27 passes for 259 yards, without any interceptions.
Norris bounced back after Newport Harbor lost at home to defending league champion Edison last week. Norris said he left that contest with a bruised kidney and lung.
Norris started against Fountain Valley (6-2, 2-1), ranked No. 4 in the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division poll, and wasn't asked to do much early on. His biggest throw was a 67-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Quest Truxton late in the first quarter.
Norris' other seven first-half attempts resulted in 14 yards. That hook up with Truxton stood as the Sailors' lone score in the first half. They ended the first half down, 17-7.
Newport Harbor, ranked No. 10, got beat on a long ball as well in the opening quarter, when quarterback Scott Schultz hit wide receiver Ryan Finley on a skinny post for a 57-yard touchdown pass. Schultz threw for 148 yards two touchdowns in the first half and was the quarterback that shined.
The final two quarters belonged to Norris, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 178 yards during the stretch.
On the Sailors' first drive in the second half, they came out throwing on every down. Norris passed 11 times, completing five. Keep in mind, three passes were dropped.
Cory Stowell made sure to haul in a 21-yard pass in the end zone with 7:49 left in the third quarter. The touchdown connection was the first of two between Norris and Stowell in the second half.
The second half is when Newport Harbor's defense also stopped Fountain Valley. The Barons came out with trickery, using two quarterbacks, even on special teams they tried to fool the Sailors. It didn't work on a fake punt in Baron territory.
Newport Harbor pushed Noah Rivard out of bounds, four yards short of converting a first down. The Sailors took over on downs on the 42 with 3:57 left in the third quarter.
On first down, Norris went to Truxton on a streak. Truxton turned out to be Norris' top target as the senior finished with seven receptions for 163 yards. Just like on his long touchdown catch, Truxton beat two defensive backs, but this time he went down after the 39-yard pass play.
The play set Newport Harbor up on the three. Tailback Riley Gaddis took it from there on the next play, rushing for the first of his three second-half touchdowns.
Two of those Gaddis touchdowns came in a third quarter in which the Sailors outscored the Barons, 21-8. They turned an interception by Max Durante into seven points late in the quarter.
When Fountain Valley closed the gap to 28-25 on Schultz' second 57-yard touchdown pass and his two-point conversion pass with 33 seconds left in the third, the Sailors answered. They went 77 yards in 11 plays, mixing in Chance Siemonsma runs with Norris throws.
The balance worked. After the Sailors called a timeout on the Barons' 10-yard line, Norris found Stowell in the end zone on an out pattern. He zipped in a tight pass 3 1/2 minutes into the fourth quarter, putting the Sailors ahead, 35-25.
The Sailors weren't going to let Fountain Valley come back. They are now in first place and they have a chance to finish there for the first time since 2008, when the Sailors split the league crown with four other teams.
"There's still two more weeks to play," said Brinkley, whose team hits the road during those two weeks, playing the worst two teams in league, Marina (1-7, 0-3) next week, before closing out league with Huntington Beach (4-4, 1-2). "We got to win out."
Newport Harbor 42, Fountain Valley 25
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Fountain Valley 7 – 10 – 8 – 0 – 25
Newport Harbor 7 – 0 – 21 – 14 – 42
FV – Finley 57 pass from S. Schultz (Mack kick), 9:15.
NH – Truxton 67 pass from Norris (M. Schultz kick), :55.
FV – Davis 4 pass from S. Schultz (Mack kick), 8:20.
FV – Mack 38 FG, 1:53.
NH – Stowell 21 pass from Norris (M. Schultz kick), 7:49.
NH – Gaddis 3 run (M. Schultz kick), 3:37.
NH – Gaddis 5 run (M. Schultz kick), 1:18.
FV – Rivard 57 pass from S. Schultz (Rivard pass from S. Schultz), :33.
NH – Stowell 10 pass from Norris (M. Schultz kick), 8:39.
NH – Gaddis 14 run (M. Schultz kick), 4:37.
FV – Barnett, 9-35.
NH – Siemonsma, 20-59; Gaddis, 7-33, 3 TDs.
FV – Schultz, 16-26-1, 236, 3 TDs.
NH – Norris, 17-27-0, 259, 3 TDs.
FV – Rivard, 4-83, 1 TD.
NH – Truxton, 7-163, 1 TD; Stowell, 6-62, 2 TDs.