TEMECULA >> Newport Harbor lost three touchdowns early in the game.
Was it time to panic? No. For Sailors senior quarterback AJ Guitron-Moore, it was time to have some fun.
“I convinced everyone to have fun and not let the moment get too big,” Guitron-Moore said.
Moore had the greatest moments of his footballing life, throwing four touchdown passes, including three for 35 yards or more, in Newport Harbor’s 42-35 win over Temecula Valley in the CIF Southern Section Championship football game. Division 6 Saturday at Temecula Valley High.
Newport Harbor were led by scores of 21-0 and 28-7 in the first half before rallying to claim their fourth CIF-SS football title and their first since 2005.
The Sailors will go 7-7 in the CIF Southern California Regional Championship game to be played Friday or Saturday. The schedule for the regional finals will be announced on Sunday afternoon.
The Sailors’ only lead in the game was when they took a 42-35 lead.
Newport Harbor took the lead on a 4-yard touchdown by running back Henry Slater with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter.
Temecula Valley then drove to the Newport Harbor 28-yard line before Sailors second-year defensive back McKay Ketchum sealed the win with an interception with just over a minute to go.
– Steve Fryer (@SteveFryer) November 28, 2021
Temecula Valley finished 10-4.
Guitron-Moore completed 16 of 23 passes for 267 yards. Second-year wide receiver Josiah Lamarque caught two of his touchdown passes (35 and 52 yards), and junior receiver Kashton Henjum caught the other two (15 and 50 yards).
Newport Harbor was 28-14 behind at halftime. Guitron-Moore connected with Lamarque who, as happened on all long touchdown passes, got behind the defensive backfield for the 52-yard touchdown. The Sailors quickly equalized 28-28 on a 1-yard touchdown from Slater.
Temecula Valley regained the lead on a 12-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Zach Zella to Carlos DeLeon. The Mariners caught up, 35-35, on Henjum’s 50-yard touchdown reception with 9:18 left in the fourth quarter, and they would score their winning points six minutes later on Slater’s 4-yard rush.
The Sailors’ offensive and defensive lines got the better of the game in the fourth quarter.
Newport Harbor senior Nathan Peters played on both lines.
“It was about reaching for the ball and swarming,” Peters said of the defense. “That’s what we’ve been practicing all season.
Newport Harbor coach Peter Lofthouse said the comeback victory was something the Sailors couldn’t have accomplished in October or September. They were fourth in the six-team Sunset League and advanced to the playoffs as an overall team with a 3-7 record.
“At the start of the year we were very young and very inexperienced,” said Lofthouse. “Our maturity has slowly increased over the season. We have learned to win and to overcome some difficult situations.
The last difficult situation was the first half hole in which the Port of Newport found itself.
Temecula Valley scored touchdowns on his first three possessions to take a 21-0 lead.
Newport Harbor got its first touchdown in the second quarter on a 15-yard pass from Guitron-Moore to Henjum, who finished with 11 receptions for 152 yards, to make it 21-7.
Temecula Valley responded quickly with another touchdown for a 28-7 advantage.
Newport Harbor concluded the first half with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Guitron-Moore to Lamarque, bringing the score to 28-14 at halftime.