Prior to the playoffs, Cole Norris received a text. The quarterback guru Norris works out with outside of Newport Harbor High sent him a message.
Norris isn't one to look past an opponent, but he made sure to save that text from Steve Calhoun. He believed the information in that text might come in handy if the Sailors won at Dana Hills in the first round of the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs.
"If we beat Dana Hills, he knew we would have to face La Habra next," Norris says of Calhoun, who as the offensive coordinator at Buena Park is familiar with La Habra as both teams are in the Freeway League. "He told me if we're going to have any chance at beating La Habra we were going to have to pass the ball a lot. I ended up telling our coaches that after we beat Dana Hills."
The Sailors' staff listened to Norris.
The junior quarterback ended up firing the ball 63 times last week. The Sailors needed Norris to throw the ball in the cold for them to upend top-seeded La Habra, 49-48, in the quarterfinals at Davidson Field.
These Sailors aren't the Sailors of the past. They didn't ground and pound their way to their 10th semifinal appearance in 28 years under Coach Jeff Brinkley.
They let Norris chuck the ball all evening, all over the field. And he performed, completing 36 passes for 474 yards and five touchdowns, the last two stats are Newport Harbor single-game records.
Each pass counted, his 63rd and final one tied the game at 48-48 with 50 seconds left. All that remained, after Norris threw a 16-yard strike to wide receiver Quest Truxton for a touchdown near the pylon, was the extra-point kick.
Norris stayed on the field. His next duty required him to hold the ball for the kicker. Norris, on one knee, received the snap and let kicker Michael Schultz put Newport Harbor ahead for good.
These late game-winning drives can drive teams crazy and give coaches ulcers. Brinkley and the Sailors are used to Norris' fourth-quarter act.
The latest comeback allowed Newport Harbor to reach its first semifinal game in eight years. The Sailors (7-5) play host to Fullerton (10-2) on Friday at 7 p.m.
"It all starts with the man in charge of the offense," Truxton says of Norris. "He has all the confidence and we all think we can come back from anything."
Since his first start on varsity last year, Norris has proved the Sailors can overcome any deficit. With options like Truxton and Cory Stowell to throw to, Norris says they make it easier for him to succeed.
In his two years as the starter, Norris can count the number of times he has rallied Newport Harbor to wins late on his right throwing hand. He squeezes the ball tightly, but never does the pressure get to him.
Norris has thrown for 2,546 yards and 23 touchdowns, with only six interceptions this season. He's found Truxton (69 catches for 1,182 yards and 16 touchdowns) and Stowell (75 catches for 920 yards and seven touchdowns) enough times this year that they're all in the Newport Harbor record book. Stowell is tied for No. 1 for receptions in a season with Marc Craig and Truxton is right behind, while Norris is No. 2 in passing yards in a season, behind Shane Foley (3,057).
When the game is on the line, Norris relies on the two seniors. In Norris' debut as the starter last year, it was Stowell coming down with the game-winning 22-yard touchdown reception on fourth-and-goal in the waning seconds to beat Corona del Mar, 27-26, in the Battle of the Bay rivalry game.
The recent game-winning touchdown pass went to Truxton and it kept the Sailors' season alive. Truxton wears No. 1 and he became Norris' top target against La Habra (10-2), which had won three of the past five Southwest Division titles. Truxton finished with 14 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns, all Newport Harbor single-game records.
On the touchdown pass, Norris placed the ball in the only spot Truxton could haul it in, up high and away from a closing cornerback. Truxton ran a corner route straight toward the pylon, where he snatched the ball with both hands, before getting his feet down for the score.
As remarkable as the pass-and-catch play that capped the nine-play, 81-yard scoring drive turned out, Norris says it doesn't happen without the offensive line. The drive lasted just 71 seconds and the line gave Norris enough time to make plays. The biggest, before the touchdown, was a 22-yard hook-up between Norris and Truxton on a fourth-and-five play on the Sailors' 39.
The line, featuring left tackle Ramsey Hufford, left guard TJ Tarazevits, center Gerardo Aceves, right guard Joseph Zavala and right tackle Joey Stukonis, protected Norris for four quarters, never giving up a sack. Looking at the number of plays the Sailors ran, 77% of them went through the air. It is amazing La Habra failed to get to Norris, a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder, or pick him off.
"They're big and physical [on the defensive line]. We weren't going to be able to sit and just pound the ball at them," Brinkley says. "We knew we were going to have to throw it and this guy [we have] can spin it."
Brinkley says he scripted the first 10 plays, calling for seven passes. The script first materialized via a text message. Once Norris got the green light, he produced an unstoppable aerial attack.
Born: May 12, 1997
Hometown: Newport Beach
Weight: 195 pounds
Coach: Jeff Brinkley
Favorite food: Burrito
Favorite movie: "Glory Road"
Favorite athletic moment: "Last year's Battle of the Bay win."
Week in review: Norris completed 36 of 63 passes for 474 yards and five touchdowns, lifting the Sailors to a 49-48 upset of top-seeded La Habra in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Southwest Division playoffs.