Oilers strike for first CIF-SS title

ANAHEIM — They have been playing football at Huntington Beach High for nearly a century.

From here on out, the 2013 Oilers will go down in school history as the first to win a major CIF Southern Section football championship.

Huntington completed its Phoenix-like rise Saturday in the Southwest Division title game at Angel Stadium by scoring three touchdowns in a span of less than one minute late in the second half, to stun Newport Harbor, 42-28, in an all-Sunset League final.

The scoring spree, which included a long touchdown pass followed by two interception returns for touchdowns by senior Kai Ross, broke a 21-all tie and sent the Oilers on to Southwest supremacy.

The Oilers had trailed, 21-14, with 2:31 to play in the third quarter.

"I thought the long touchdown pass, and then the two long touchdowns by Kai [Ross], were unbelievable," said Huntington's Eric Lo, who won his first section football title as a head coach.

"We started off a little slow," he said. "Maybe it was the stage here (pointing to the field at Angel Stadium), but I thought we didn't find our groove right away. Newport played a tough, physical game but we took over in the fourth quarter. Hats off to them and Coach [Jeff] Brinkley. They played a great game."

The Oilers, once a 4-5 team late in the season, won their final five games to claim the title. It wasn't easy against a Newport Harbor team that came in riding a three-game win streak and was seeking its fourth section title under Brinkley.

The Sailors (8-6) held a 21-14 lead after junior quarterback Cole Norris found a wide open Keaton Cablay in the back of the end zone on a nine-yard touchdown pass with 2:31 left in the third quarter. The lead didn't last long, as Huntington responded with an 81-yard scoring drive that took only five plays and just over two minutes.

Senior receiver Maurice Barber took in a short screen play from Ross at the Huntington 21-yard line and sped up the middle of the field for a huge, 64-yard gain before being dragged down by strong safety Skyler Pavloff at the Newport 17. Three plays later from the 12, sophomore running back Hunter Simmons took a screen from Ross on the right side and fought his way to the end zone. Junior Maliek Miller's conversion with 11 seconds to go in the quarter knotted the score.

After holding Newport on its next possession, Huntington got the ball back at its own 7 with 9:22 remaining in the game. On third-and-three from the 14, Simmons broke free for a 31-yard gain to put the ball at the 45. The Oilers faced third-and-two from the Newport 47 when the drive took a hit, a procedure call against the Oilers.

It was then, that craziness ensued and from that moment on, it was a fast and quick blitz by Huntington.

It was led by Ross who took over the game.

On third-and-seven from the Huntington 48, Ross hit junior receiver Nolan Thompson. Thompson went high and after making the catch inside the Newport 40, bumped into defensive back Garrett Hall who was covering on the play. Thompson came down on his feet, Hall went down on the soggy turf, and Thompson turned the pass into a 52-yard touchdown play.

Miller's kick put Huntington in front, 28-21, with 6:26 to go.

"It was a fake screen and I knew the ball was coming my way, and I just had to make that catch," Thompson said. "I knew I would I would get hit as soon as I caught it. I managed to keep my feet and just took off for the end zone."

Two plays after Thompson's score, Norris lofted a pass toward intended receiver Cory Stowell but Ross was there at the Newport 36 to make the interception. He eluded a tackle near the 30, cut his was way to the 20 where he eluded another defender, cut again, this time across the field, and finished his return for a stunning touchdown.

It was the first interception return for a touchdown this year for Ross, who came into the game with five interceptions. He said he had one return for a touchdown called back by penalty earlier this year.

It was his second career return for a score, his first coming during his junior year. It gave Huntington a 35-21 lead, but it wouldn't be his last.

"We needed a spark, and I was there to make the interception," Ross said. "The ball floated up there and I caught it. After that, I don't remember anything, or getting to the end zone. It was crazy."

If Ross thought that return was crazy, he must have been flabbergasted on the next play from scrimmage for Newport Harbor: 10 seconds after his first return for a touchdown, he picked off Norris' next pass attempt at the Newport 25 and ran it back for another touchdown.

In a wild turn of events, the Oilers stretched their lead to 42-21 with 5:41 left. Ross' two scoring returns sent the Huntington sideline into unbridled frenzy.

The Oilers scored their final four touchdowns of the game between 11 seconds left in the third quarter, and 5:41 remaining in the game.

Newport would get its final score off a blocked punt return with 1:53 in the fourth quarter.

"That second interception was not one of the easiest of pick-offs, but after I made the interception, the rest was easy," he said of his untouched sprint to the same corner of the end zone where he seconds earlier had scored.

The second meeting of the season between the teams was much closer than the 40-14 win Huntington posted on Nov. 8. That win allowed the Oilers to stay in contention for a CIF playoff bid, and gain an at-large berth.

Huntington went on the first of two scoring drives of more than 90 yards of the day, on its second possession of the game. Starting at his own eight, Ross gained 50 yards on five keepers but the scoring honors went to sophomore running back Travis Heer who ran in standing up from a yard out for a 7-0 lead with 1:29 to go in the opening quarter.

Newport Harbor scored twice in the second quarter to grab a 14-7 lead but Huntington needed only three plays to tie the score after Norris had hooked up with Stowell on a 31-yard touchdown pass with 7:38 left in the half. Ross put a play-action pass up high which Barber caught when he out-jumped defensive back Quest Truxton for a 43-yard gain to the Newport 25. Two plays later, the two teamed on a 23-yard scoring strike after Ross, on a pump fake, hit Barber in stride for the score.

The teams went into the half deadlocked.

Lo called Barber's game performance, "remarkable."

"We have really good chemistry," Barber said of he and Ross, referring to both his TD reception and 64-yard gain on the third-quarter screen pass that led to Huntington's tying the score at 21-21 late in the quarter. "I was glad to be able to make some big plays and contribute to our team. I wanted to score on that play (64-yard pass), but we got one [touchdown], anyway."

Newport Harbor took its final lead with 2:31 left in the third quarter when Norris rolled out and hit Cablay in the end zone. After the 28-0 blitz by Huntington, followed by linebacker Max Durante's return of a blocked punt for a score, the Oilers recovered an onside kick, then ran out the final 1:48.

Ross made sure the Oilers wouldn't give the ball back. His big, 29-yard gain to the Newport 36 on a third-and-12 keeper, sealed the game with 1:33 left.

Then, the Huntington celebration began.

"We had our backs against the wall in that first Newport game, and our kids responded, " Lo said of his team's regular-season finale. "We won that game, then kept it going against Yorba Linda, San Juan Hills, then Edison, and [Saturday].

"Something triggered them, and it propelled them to a championship."

What was to be a memorable Saturday for the Huntington Beach Oilers included a gorgeous delivery of the National Anthem by Lo's brother, Evan, and culminated with the school winning a championship on a brisk day that began with rain, didn't include any during game time, and ended under patchy-blue skies turning to dusk.

Lo said Tuesday that he was still trying to process what his team had accomplished.

"It still really hasn't sunk in," he said. "This [championship] is awesome for our community. The support from former Oilers, through emails, texts, phone calls, has been incredible. It meant a lot to Huntington Beach High graduates.

"For me, the week leading up to the game was incredibly busy and there were a lot of distractions, but our coaching staff came together and was outstanding. Brett Brown, our offensive coordinator, and Diego Segura, our defensive coordinator, and the rest of our staff, put together a great game plan, and just did a phenomenal job."

Huntington scored 40 or more points in three games during its season-ending, five-game win streak, and scored 31 or more in four of those games.

"This means everything to me, to our team, to everyone," said Ross who quarterbacked the Oilers the last two years, and went out a CIF champion in his third year playing varsity.

Ross said after Saturday's game that he had verbally committed to Montana.

Saturday's championship game appearance was the first since 1993 for Huntington, which lost out on the Division II title to Los Alamitos.

The Huntington Beach program won the 1935 Lower Division "B" title, which was non-varsity.

Huntington Beach (9-5)

32...Bakersfield Christian...10

49…at Magnolia…14

31...at JSerra…49

17…Trabuco Hills…27

37…Downey…29

6…*Edison…48

14…*Fountain Valley…19

50…*Marina…12

14…*Los Alamitos…21

40…*Newport Harbor…14

31…^Yorba Linda...14

42…^San Juan Hills…12

28…^Edison…21

42...#Newport Harbor...28

(*denotes Sunset League game; ^denotes CIF playoff game; #denotes CIF title game)

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