On the 20-yard line, before the opening kickoff at Newport Harbor High, someone dressed as a Highlander played the bagpipes.
The Sailors almost ended up burying the rest of the Highlanders from La Habra early on Friday night.
Fifteen minutes into the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs, Newport Harbor jumped out to a 21-point lead. Every play the Sailors drew up through the air worked against the top seed. The only other time La Habra trailed by 21 points was two months ago, when it lost to Mission Viejo, which is ranked No. 5 in the state by CalHiSports.com.
The Sailors were on the verge of handing La Habra its second setback of the year, until the Highlanders found life in the second quarter. The hosts knew it wasn't over after their fast start.
The Highlanders rallied to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, but the Sailors had one more touchdown in them. Quarterback Cole Norris went to his favorite target of the evening, Quest Truxton.
With 50 seconds left, Norris hooked up with Truxton on a 16-yard touchdown pass, their fourth together, and the Sailors stunned La Habra, 49-48, at Davidson Field. They pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Coach Jeff Brinkley's 28 years with the Sailors.
"It's going to be one of those that people are going to talk about," said Brinkley, adding that the last time Newport Harbor beat a No. 1 seed in the quarterfinals was in 1992 against Riverside Rubidoux. "We have a lot of tradition here and our kids know how to win. They played their [butts] off tonight."
Two of those guys who played lights out were Norris and Truxton.
Norris passed for 474 yards and five touchdowns, completing 36 of 63 passes. Truxton finished with 14 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns.
While four of his touchdown passes came in the first half, Norris' biggest throws came on the Sailors' final drive. They began it on their 19, with 2 minutes left, knowing that a touchdown and a successful extra-point kick earned the Sailors (7-5) their first semifinal appearance in eight years.
La Habra had gone ahead, 48-42, on quarterback Eric Barriere's 48-yard touchdown pass to tailback Carlos Martin. Cory Stowell came up with the big play, blocking the Highlanders' extra-point kick.
The missed opportunity fired up the Sailors. They went to what worked against the Highlanders, Norris firing passes to Truxton and Stowell (11 catches for 113 yards and one touchdown).
Norris, a junior, moved the chains on a fourth-and-five on the Sailors' 39 with 1:19 left to play, hitting Truxton on a 22-yard pass. Then he went to Stowell for an eight-yard pass. A pass interference penalty on La Habra put Newport Harbor on the 16 with 58 seconds to go. On the next play, Norris threw a perfect pass to Truxton near the pylon, where the senior hauled in the touchdown pass with both hands.
The home fans erupted. All the Sailors needed was for Michael Schultz to convert the extra-point kick. He nailed it, even after a false start penalty pushed the ball five yards back.
Newport Harbor put the finishing touches on defense. Truxton, a cornerback, intercepted a long pass near the goal line as time expired. The Sailors are playing host to Fullerton (10-2), another team from the Freeway League, next week in the semifinals.
Practically everyone expected Freeway League champion La Habra (10-2) to make it to the semifinals. Barriere, a sophomore sensation, threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns, but his dual-threat effort wasn't enough. The run by the Highlanders, who had won three of the past five Southwest Division titles, ended because of the resilient Sailors.
Newport Harbor 49, La Habra 48
SCORE BY QUARTERS
La Habra 0 – 21 – 14 – 13 – 48
Newport 14 – 14 – 7 – 14 – 49
NH – Truxton 14 pass from Norris (Schultz kick), 7:17.
NH – Truxton 10 pass from Norris (Schultz kick), :31.
NH – Truxton 14 pass from Norris (Schultz kick), 8:54.
LH – Barriere 3 run (Gatica kick), 6:23.
NH – Stowell 15 pass from Norris (Schultz kick), 4:07.
LH – Salinas 33 run (Gatica kick), 2:55.
LH – Martin 10 run (Gatica kick), :56.
LH – Barriere 67 run (Gatica kick), 11:19.
NH – Shaw 1 run (Schultz kick), 5:35.
LH – Carter 53 pass from Barriere (Gatica kick), 3:53.
LH – Martin 62 run (Gatica kick), 9:40.
NH – Siemonsma 2 run (Schultz kick), 3:38.
LH – Martin 48 pass from Barriere (kick blocked), 2:07.
NH – Truxton 16 pass from Norris (Schultz kick), :50.
LH – Barriere, 15-167, 2 TDs; Martin, 17-152, 2 TDs.
NH – Siemonsma, 15-49, 1 TD.
LH – Barriere, 12-21-1, 247, 1 TD.
NH – Norris, 36-63-0, 474, 5 TDs.
LH – Carter, 6-118, 1 TD.
NH – Truxton, 14-233, 4 TDs; Stowell, 11-113, 1 TD.