By Martin Henderson
A week after beating top-seeded La Habra in an epic 49-48 victory, Newport Harbor scored a far more pedestrian decision Friday.
But not every meaningful victory has to be epic, and the rather average showing before a capacity crowd at home was enough to send the Sailors to the Southern Section finals for the eighth time.
Newport Harbor scored a 28-17 semifinal victory over Fullerton in the Southwest Division VI playoffs, biding its time with an impressive second-half performance to set up an all-Sunset League championship.
It’s Newport Harbor’s first trip to the finals since 2005, when it won its third championship.
The Sailors, second-place in the Sunset League, will play fifth-place Huntington Beach, which scored an upset of third-seeded Edison, 28-21, in the other semifinal. The championship will be played next Saturday, 2 p.m., at Angel Stadium.
When the teams played in the league finale, a week before beginning their playoff runs, Huntington Beach scored a 40-14 victory over the Sailors.
Newport will be hoping for an epic turnaround.
Score: Newport Harbor 28, Fullerton 17
Key Stats: Junior Cole Norris completed 15 of 22 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns for Newport Harbor.
Pivotal Moment: Newport Harbor’s offense had been outgained 158-69, and trailed at halftime, 10-7. The Sailors’ night had been one of near misses. They often tried for the long ball, only to be slightly out of sync. After a promising start on their first possession ended in a fumble, Newport really needed to make something happen. Norris connected with Cory Stowell, who made a fine over the shoulder catch, for a 52-yard gain to the Fullerton 16. Three plays later, Norris hit wide-open Stowell for a 14-yard score, a 14-10 lead, and a momentum shift that would lead to 21 points in a 7 1/2-minute span.
Quotable: “It’s great to see the kids rewarded for all their hard work,” Coach Jeff Brinkley said of Newport’s return to the championship game. “Our league is a great league and every week is a battle. You’ve got to go after it weekly. It really helps you in the playoffs.”
Records: Newport Harbor (8-5), Fullerton (10-3)
Notes: Following Stowell’s 14-yard scoring reception with 1:07 left in the third quarter, Newport added more scores when Chance Siemonsma ran in from 1 yard 10:52 left in the fourth quarter and, after Fullerton drove to midfield, Riley Gaddis returned an interception 57 yards with 6:29 remaining to go up, 28-10. … Special teams had a hand in Newport’s victory as Dalton Rosene blocked a punt on Fullerton’s opening possession and Gaddis recovered at the 11. Two plays later, Norris rolled to his left and connected with Quest Truxton for an 11-yard score and a 7-0 lead. … Norris rolled left on his TD pass to Stowell, as well. … Fullerton led at halftime, 10-7, on the strength of Benjamin Pichardo’s 25-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, and Josh Hill’s 10-yard run with 2:49 left. … Hill carried 16 times for 59 yards. …
Fullerton dual threat quarterback Scott Lloyd carried 11 times for 54 yards, and completed 22 of 35 passes for 132 yards and the interception that was returned for a score. His 2-yard sneak with 4:00 left ended the scoring; Newport recovered the onside kick. … Siemonsma carried 17 times for 68 yards and a touchdown for Newport. … Truxton, who had 14 receptions a week ago, caught six passes for 45 yards, and Stowell four passes for 75… If there was an easily overlooked hero Friday, it might have been sophomore Elliot Frye, who took over as center after starter Gerardo Aceves blew out a knee this week. It wasn’t a glamorous performance, but it was a necessary one. … Frye was one of two sophomores on the offensive line, the other being Joey Stukonis. ... Fullerton completed its season using interim co-coaches following the dismissal before the season of head coach Julian Smilowitz.