NEWPORT BEACH — The Battle of the Bay was just that, a battle.
The finish between Newport Harbor High and Corona del Mar was one for the ages. Even Coach Jeff Brinkley had to think whether he had seen a football game end the way it did on Friday night.
"Probably not," said a grinning Brinkley, who has been at Newport Harbor for 27 seasons.
He could smile, because his backup quarterback, with 24 seconds left and his team trailing, threw a go-ahead 22-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal.
Yes, you read that right, fourth-and-goal from that distance. The Sailors needed a prayer to win for the first time this season and avoid their first 0-3 start under Brinkley.
Quarterback Cole Norris found wide receiver Cory Stowell in the end zone, capping a game-winning drive, which began on the Sailors' five-yard line with 2:57 left to play.
Newport Harbor ran 17 plays and rallied to beat the Sea Kings, 27-26, in the 51st edition of the Back Bay rivalry. The home side of the sold-out crowd erupted when the Sailors took the lead and when CdM's last Hail Mary play fell way short of the end zone.
The Sailors did it mostly through the air at the end, relying on someone making their first start on varsity. In front of 5,000 fans at Davidson Field, Norris, filling in for an injured Zach Wade, didn't disappoint, finishing with 245 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-26 passing.
Norris completed eight of 14 passes on the final drive, including two on fourth downs. His first fourth-down conversion kept the drive alive and the second one killed CdM's hope of beating the Sailors for the first time since 2006.
Norris went to an unlikely target, Stowell, who didn't catch a ball all game, until the one that mattered. The junior stood in the end zone, waiting and waiting for the ball. You'd understand why, as he was the third receiver on the play.
"I don't know how to explain it. I didn't even see [the ball] until it hit my hands," Stowell said. "CdM's a great team. We played with heart and we came out with the win, just like always [against CdM]. [Six] years in a row!"
The Sailors (1-2) made it six straight victories against their Back Bay rivals. They had to come back to extend the streak and improve to 38-13 against the Sea Kings.
After building a 14-0 lead, CdM (1-2), ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section Southern Division, scored the next 23 points. The Sea Kings stormed back mostly on the legs of quarterback Cayman Carter, who rushed 22 times for 166 yards and one touchdown, and the left-footed leg of Grif Amies, a Newport Harbor transfer.
The senior kicker converted four field goals, coming from 48, 46, 29 and 22 yards out. He gave the Sea Kings a 26-21 lead 51 seconds into the fourth quarter on his shortest field-goal try.
It looked like that might be enough.
The Sea Kings seemed to figure out that Newport Harbor kept running Talalelei Teaupa.
Teaupa recorded 194 of his career-high 237 yards at halftime, including touchdown runs of 74 and 10 yards.
Teaupa's grandpa even walked up to the press box to talk to the PA announcer, just to make sure he knew how to pronounce Teaupa.
Three home games into the season, the announcer got it right, thanks to Teaupa's grandfather.
The Sailors also figured out how to win for the first time this year.