After going winless at home last year, Newport Harbor High wins first football game at renovated Davidson Field on a magical night

by in News

It was a magical evening for Newport Harbor High’s football team and its 30-13, season-opening victory over Sequoia of Redwood City, given it was the Sailors’ first win at home on the renovated Davidson Field.

They hadn’t won a home game last year when the stadium reopened after a two-year hiatus.

Further, in his debut at the helm, Peter Lofthouse became the first Newport Harbor head football coach to win his first game since Bill Pizzica in 1974, when the Tars shut out Fullerton, 17-0. Pizzica coached from ’74 through ’78, and all of the succeeding Newport coaches, Hank Cochrane (1979-81), Mike Giddings (1982-85) and Jeff Brinkley (1986-2017), lost their opening game, legendary as some might have become.

Because of the sense of urgency to “win now,” and with a new coach replacing the 32-year, highly respected Brinkley, the need for a W to calm the Tar Ball masses was monumental. For the Tars, it could not have been a better night.

Sure, there were a few interceptions thrown in a nervous first quarter and a missed tackle or two, but the Sailors played hard and represented well as they defeated visiting Sequoia, which enjoyed a mini vacation with a tour of UC Irvine and a bonfire beach party in Huntington Beach.

On this colorful night, Aug. 24, with a jaw-dropping sunset behind the crowd and the smell of popcorn and burgers grilling in the air, Davidson Field was packed on the home side, an estimated 3,500 fans in attendance. The stadium was buzzing as Harbor junior quarterback Clay Liolios found his stroke and receiver Aidan Goltz converted on two long pass plays for touchdowns, and by halftime Harbor was up, 16-0.

Liolios, a baseball player and power hitter, did not play football last year, instead focusing on baseball, in which he plays catcher, first base and outfield and bats cleanup in Coach Evan Chalmers’ thundering lineup. But like a lot of kids this summer, Liolios trekked back to Davidson Field as the football participation numbers tripled to about 130.

“When I started, there were 40 kids in the entire program, and the majority of the kids were freshmen and sophomores,” said Lofthouse, whose coaching staff includes former Orange Coast College head coach Kevin Emerson, who guided the Pirates from 2014 through 2017.

While no one expects miracles from Lofthouse in the mighty Sunset League, the debut win helped the Tar Ball faithful forget about starting 0-8 last year and missing the CIF playoffs for the third straight year. Before kickoff, Newport Harbor Booster Club President Jason Lavin said it was “a must win” in getting the new regime off to a good start.

In the first quarter, Goltz scored on a trick play as running back Colin Gregg took a lateral and unleashed a deep ball for a 58-yard touchdown, and before any of the seats were warm. Gregg left with an injury on this momentous night, but finished with a team-high 36 yards rushing on seven carries.

In the second quarter, Liolios lofted a high-arching pass to the front right pylon, in heavy traffic, which resulted in a 33-yard touchdown to Goltz, who out-jumped a couple of Sequoia defenders and came down with the biggest play of the game as the Sailors built a 16-0 lead. Liolios completed 15 of 22 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown, while Goltz had four catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

Second-half touchdowns for the Tars were scored by Jake Keliikoa and Zach Warren.

Last year in the season opener over Labor Day weekend on the road, there were no cheerleaders or Harbor band at Bolsa Grande High in Garden Grove, where the Sailors lost to Pacifica, 33-7, on Sept. 2.

On this opening night, however, the band and cheerleaders rocked and it seemed like the entire community showed up to support Newport Harbor as a new era began in the Long Grey Line.