The Newport Harbor High football team did not have its head coach for the second half of its biggest win of the season.
Jeff Brinkley, in his 32nd year in charge, left at halftime of the Sailors’ Sunset League finale at Huntington Beach on Friday night. Defensive coordinator Matt Burns, who took over as head coach in Brinkley’s absence, said that Brinkley was feeling uncomfortable during the game due to his condition of atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat.
Ten years ago, Brinkley also left a Newport Harbor game at halftime because his heart started racing, and he was taken to the hospital.
After Friday’s game, Burns said Brinkley was resting at home with his wife, Laura.
“He’s not at the hospital or anything,” Burns said of Brinkley, who is 65 years old. “He’s OK.”
It remains to be seen if there will be another game this year for Brinkley to coach Newport Harbor.
But Brinkley’s Sailors kept themselves in the CIF Southern Section postseason discussion with an upset win. The Sailors beat the Oilers 21-7, creating a three-way tie for third place in the league between Newport Harbor, Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley.
The athletic directors from each school left the field after the game to conduct coin flips. A few minutes later, Sailors athletic director Jerry Murray came back to tell the coaching staff that Fountain Valley (6-4, 2-3 in league) had won the third-place designation from the Sunset League.
The Barons have a leg up on being selected to the CIF Southern Section Division 6 playoffs when the bracket is released on Sunday at 10 a.m. They went into the week ranked No. 7 in Division 6.
Newport Harbor (2-8, 2-3) will have to apply as an at-large team in Division 6, and the chances of Huntington Beach (3-7, 2-3) to qualify in Division 7 were hurt with the loss to the Sailors.
None of the three teams is guaranteed entry into the postseason, and the Sailors know that all too well.
“After last year, there [are] zero guarantees,” said Burns, who saw the Sailors finish alone in third place last year yet fail to make the playoffs.
What Burns could guarantee, though, was that the Sailors played inspired football on Friday. As the defensive coordinator, he could be especially happy with the performance.
The Sailors were stout. Huntington Beach did not get a first down on its first three drives of the game, and had just 78 yards from scrimmage in the first half.
“We just weren’t connecting,” said Huntington Beach coach Brett Brown, who watched the Sailors take a 7-0 advantage on Sam Barela’s four-yard touchdown pass to Brian Bailey early in the second quarter.
Huntington Beach tied the score midway through the third quarter when quarterback Arick McLawyer found a seam on the right side and was gone for a 56-yard touchdown run. But the Sailors responded with their own long touchdown run two possessions later, with Colin Gregg scoring on a 65-yard counter play.
Raphael Cruz made plays on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter to help put the game out of reach for Newport Harbor. First, he intercepted McLawyer’s pass over the middle, returning it to the Newport Harbor 45-yard line. Three plays later, Cruz caught a 52-yard touchdown pass from Barela, diving in at the front right pylon to put the Sailors up two scores with 7:04 remaining in the game.
McLawyer tried to drive his team back down the field. On second-and-one from the Sailors’ three, Newport Harbor’s Austin Muro sacked McLawyer for a five-yard loss. He was slow to get up, and had to come out with what appeared to be an ankle injury. The Oilers inserted Andrew Abarca at quarterback, but the drive stalled and Huntington Beach turned the ball over on downs.
Freshman Jacob Hanlon then became the Oilers’ third quarterback of the night. He drove his team down the field and back into the red zone. On three of the next four plays, Hanlon tried to force the ball to receiver Jeremiah Flanagan, but Cruz was there to break it up each time. The fourth failed attempt caused another turnover on downs with 1:10 left to play.
The Sailors were on their way to beating the Oilers for the fourth straight year in league play. Now both teams hope their seasons will continue next week.
“I’m proud of everyone for staying focused,” Cruz said. “To go 0-8 and then have two of the best weeks of practice and play two of the best games we can, it’s just amazing that everyone had the dedication to do that.”
Newport Harbor 21, Huntington Beach 7
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Newport Harbor 0 – 7 – 7 – 7 — 21
Huntington Beach 0 – 0 – 7 – 0 — 7
NH – Bailey 4 pass from Barela (Schroeder kick), 10:45.
HB – McLawyer 56 run (Gonzalez kick), 6:47.
NH – Gregg 65 run (Schroeder kick), 3:46.
NH – Cruz 52 pass from Barela (Schroeder kick), 7:04.
NH – Gregg, 5-108, 1 TD.
HB – McLawyer, 14-99, 1 TD.
NH – Barela, 10-23-0, 97, 2 TDs.
HB – McLawyer, 6-18-1, 58.
NH – Cruz, 4-74, 1 TD.
HB – Bryant, 4-46.
Newport Harbor 21, Huntington Beach 7
Newport Harbor 0 7 7 7 – 21
Huntington Beach 0 0 7 0 – 7
Passing: Barela (NH) 10-23, 97, 2 TDS; McLawyer (HB) 6-18, 59, Hanlon 3-6, 30, Abarca 0-1.
Rushing: NH, Andrews 20-39, Gregg 5-107; HB McLawyer 14-100, Stevens 13-31, Gosney 2-39.
Receiving: NH, Cruz 4-77, Shollin 1-11, Bailey 1-4; HB, Bryant 4-50, Moore 2-30, Flanagan 1-6.
Newport Harbor collects win over Huntington Beach, but loses coin-flip for third place
HUNTINGTON BEACH – Newport Harbor hardly played like a 1-8 team in its Sunset League regular-season finale Friday evening, Nov. 3, against Huntington Beach.
Sam Barela, Raphael Cruz and Colin Gregg sparked the Sailors in the second half as visiting Newport Harbor rallied to defeat the Oilers 21-7 and put themselves in position to draw a CIF-SS playoff bid.
The Sailors improved to 2-8 overall and 2-3 in league with the win, which created a three-way tie for third place in league with Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach (3-7, 2-3).
Following the game, the athletic directors from all three schools huddled in a Huntington Beach office and conducted a coin flip that Fountain Valley won. The Barons were awarded third place in league and automatically qualified for the playoffs.
The Sailors (Division 6) and Oilers (Division 7) will apply for at-large bids to the playoffs. The playoff pairings will be announced on Sunday morning, Nov. 5.
Newport Harbor defensive coordinator Matt Burns was called upon to take over the helm of the Sailors when head coach Jeff Brinkley left at halftime due to an irregular heart beat. Burns indicated that Brinkley takes medication for arrhythmia.
“Jeff’s OK,” Burns said after the game. “He takes medication for heart arrhythmia and his heart started to beat faster and he decided to leave at halftime. “He’s OK. He didn’t have to go to the hospital. He’s home and resting comfortably.”
After Oilers quarterback Arick McLawyer tied the score at 7 with a 56-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter, Newport Harbor running back Colin Gregg broke a 65-yard TD run to give the Sailors a 14-7 lead with 3:36 to play in the quarter.
“We have competed and brought energy better the last two weeks than we have all season,” said Gregg. “We just want to go to the playoffs.”
Early in the fourth quarter with Huntington Beach on the move, defensive back Raphael Cruz intercepted an Oilers pass to foil an Oilers drive. Three plays later, Sam Barela lofted a 48-yard TD pass to Cruz that increased the Sailors led to 21-7.
“We’ve come together and have done a lot of great work in the last two weeks,” said Cruz. “Our defense kept them in check tonight and we didn’t do anything stupid.”
Huntington Beach had two scoring opportunities late in the game, but Newport Harbor’s defense stiffened and stopped the Oilers on two fourth down plays to seal the victory.
“Our kids were disciplined, they have battled all year,” Burns added.
Gregg finished with 107 yards rushing and a touchdown and Barela had two TD passes.
McLawyer, who left with an ankle injury with five minutes left in the game, led the Oilers with 100 yards rushing.
“They (Newport Harbor) played hard and their record is not indicative of their team,” said Oilers coach Brett Brown. “We just couldn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”