Brinkley compared the setback to the season-opening loss at Trabuco Hills and the home opener to Loyola of Los Angeles. In each of those contests, Newport Harbor was in the game in the third quarter.
The Sailors (1-3) were right in the thick of it against San Clemente. Titus Hasson returned the second-half kickoff 65 yards to the Tritons' 33. The big play allowed receiver Landon Gyulay and Cole Blower to hook up for a second touchdown pass, cutting the Tritons' lead to 17-12.
Newport Harbor, however, never scored again. The offense struggled to run the ball, recording 34 yards on 26 carries. Blower and Gyulay produced most of the offense, Blower finished with 140 yards, 101 of them on five passes to Gyulay.
The defense kept the Sailors close, forcing the Tritons to turn the ball over in Newport Harbor territory three times in the second half, twice in the red zone.
In all, San Clemente turned it over four times on the Sailors' side. Utah-bound quarterback Travis Wilson wasn't his usual self. Gyulay and Kory Cablay, the Sailors' two cornerbacks, each picked off the senior.
The Tritons' ground game stood out, despite losing starter Mike Elespuru to a knee injury in the third quarter. The senior already had 129 yards and one touchdown on 23 carries.
While 13 penalties for 145 yards on the Tritons also helped Newport Harbor, San Clemente's running game led the way with 346 yards and three touchdowns.
"Against a team like that, that's well coached, they're going to hang around and have a chance to beat you late," San Clemente Coach Jon Hamro said. "We were lucky to avoid that situation. We should have put them away a long time."
The knockout punch almost came on the opening kickoff.
San Clemente appeared to strike first. Christian Tober returned the kick 97 yards for what looked like a touchdown, but a holding call nullified the big play.