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PREP EXTRA: SATURDAY FOOTBALL PULLOUT : Late Score Helps Keep Newport Harbor Perfect


NEWPORT BEACH — If there was any doubt Newport Harbor was having a season of destiny, there isn't anymore.

The Sailors appeared to be on their way to their first loss when quarterback John Giordani spotted wide receiver Jon Benzinger open in the secondary. Giordani's pass split the defenders, who collided going for the ball, and found Benzinger for a game-winning, 52-yard completion with 1 minute 55 seconds remaining, giving fourth-ranked Newport Harbor a 27-23 victory over Santa Margarita Friday night.

The victory gives Newport Harbor (9-0, 4-0) the Sea View League title and the probable No. 1 seeding in the upcoming Southern Section Division V playoffs.

The wild finish even had Newport Harbor players and coaches shaking their heads.

"We're probably the luckiest team in the whole world," Benzinger said.

The Sailors needed all the luck they could get against the Eagles (4-5, 1-3), who came out inspired and stayed that way the entire game. Santa Margarita scored 14 points before Newport Harbor even touched the ball as they drove 71 yards for one score, recovered an on-sides kick and drove 35 yards for another.

Newport Harbor closed to within 17-14 at halftime and took a 21-17 lead on Benzinger's 36-yard touchdown catch two minutes into the second half. But Santa Margarita regained the lead with 4:14 left in the game by driving 69 yards in seven plays. Matt Nickels' second touchdown catch, a three-yarder from quarterback Chris Collins, capped the drive.

The Sailors almost gave up the ball near midfield, but fullback Brian Johnson (17 carries, 128 yards) gained three yards on fourth and two at his 45.

On the next play, Giordani hit Benzinger.

"The fullback (Matt Riggle) made the play," Giordani said. "I was about to get creamed by the end, but Riggle saved my butt by picking him up. I stepped up and just threw it."

Benzinger did his part by burning cornerback David Munoz.

"We studied them on film all week and we tried to get them to bite on the fakes," Benzinger said. "I just tried to get the corner to bite, then I took it up."

Benzinger, who caught five passes for 152 yards, three of them touchdowns, said he didn't even see Nickels coming over from his safety position.

"All I saw were the white rings on the ball," said Benzinger, who caught the ball on the 15 and danced into the end zone untouched.

Santa Margarita's comeback hopes ended when Dan Berger intercepted a Collins pass at midfield with 1:40 left.

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