The days leading up to Newport Harbor High's playoff opener, Garrett Hall split the tailback duties in practice. Coaches never disclosed which of the two backs might carry the load with starter Chance Siemonsma out with a leg injury.
The start in the backfield didn't go to Hall. From the sideline, he watched Riley Gaddis get the nod at running back in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs at Dana Hills last week. Hall rooted him on.
When Hall earned his shot to run at the start of the second quarter, he made the most of it. He carried the ball seven times for 38 yards during the Sailors' 10-play, 83-yard scoring drive that gave Newport Harbor its first lead.
Hall capped the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run, matching his jersey number. He never touched the ball again until the first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Before the first half ended, Hall impacted the game. Hall, who has started at free safety all season, rallied the defense. The Dolphins, trailing 13-7, reached the Sailors' two. Hall began to fire up his teammates near the goal line.
"Let's hold them to a field goal," Hall says he yelled.
The Sailors responded with something even better. The defense forced a turnover on the two with 35 seconds left. Linebacker Keaton Cablay recovered the fumble and Newport Harbor stopped the Dolphins from retaking the lead.
As for who caused the fumble, which helped the Sailors keep the lead for good en route to a 32-13 win, that's a different story. Hall believed his helmet popped the ball out of the quarterback's hands.
The next day, evidence showed Gaddis' helmet jarred the ball loose from the quarterback when he tried to extend the ball.
"I lost a couple of bucks," Hall says of a bet he made with Gaddis. "Some guy took a photo of the play and Riley knocked it out."
Hall was more than OK with that, as he was the one who delivered the knockout blow on the ground and with the ball. The Sailors made him the featured back and he didn't disappoint, rushing 23 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
The senior's running style won over Coach Jeff Brinkley. Hall quickly hit the hole and punished defenders, allowing him to produce a career game and extend Newport Harbor's season. With injuries to key starters affecting the Sailors late in the year, they needed someone to rise up.
"The guys that were the backups, you know, stepped up and played great for us," Brinkley says. "That's why you got to prepare your other guys."
Hall, one of the team's four captains, came in ready for his chance to fill in for Siemonsma, the team's leading rusher. Hall is the first to remind everyone that he couldn't have done it without the offensive line.
Those big guys, left tackle Ramsey Hufford, left guard TJ Tarazevits, center Gerardo Aceves, right guard Joseph Zavala and right tackle Joey Stukonis, pushed back Dana Hills all night. Their best work came in the second half, even with Hufford dealing with an injured ankle he suffered on defense right before halftime.
Hall made it easy on the offense. The only time the Sailors punted, they got the ball back right away.
Hall raced toward the punt returner, who muffed the punt. All of a sudden Hall slid and pounced on the ball on the Sailors' 44 with less than three minutes left in the third quarter. Four plays later, Hall found the end zone on a 22-yard run to put the Sailors ahead, 26-13.
"The turnovers were huge," Brinkley says. "You got to capitalize on them when you get them and we did."
The most impressive drive by Newport Harbor came with 23 seconds left in the third quarter, right after Gaddis recovered a fumble on the Sailors' seven. From there, Newport Harbor ran off 19 plays, nine of which went to Hall on runs, and chewed up 9:38 off the clock.
Hall did most of the work on the 93-yard drive, collecting 49 yards. The offense turned to Gaddis. By the time Gaddis rushed for a nine-yard touchdown, 2:45 remained in the game. The Sailors were on their way to a second straight quarterfinals appearance.
The Sailors (6-5) are at home against top-seeded La Habra (10-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. Hall says Siemonsma is slated to return this week. Hall says he, Siemonsma and Gaddis have split the carries in practice.
Newport Harbor is going to need Siemonsma, who also starts at strong safety, for any chance to upset La Habra. The Highlanders have won three of the last five Southwest Division titles.
"I'm happy to have him back," says Hall, who believes La Habra is beatable.
Hall and the Sailors have Friday to prove it.
Born: April 17, 1996
Hometown: Newport Beach
Weight: 180 pounds
Coach: Jeff Brinkley
Favorite food: Ribs
Favorite movie: "Legion"
Favorite athletic moment: "Last year in the Battle of the Bay and winning the Dog Soldier award for best defensive player of the week."
Week in review: Hall rushed 23 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns and recovered a muffed punt, leading the Sailors to a 32-13 victory at Dana Hills in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs.