After catching five passes for 102 yards and returning a kickoff 78 yards for a touchdown in his first varsity football game, Service High senior Kylelle Brown can officially consider himself one of the Cougars.
"I feel like I'm part of the family now," Brown said. "Hopefully they respect me now. I want to be just like them and win a championship of my own."
Brown's big performance Friday night at Anchorage Football Stadium helped defending state champion Service to a 50-28 Cook Inlet Conference win over East. The Cougars improved to 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the CIC, while East fell to 1-2 overall and 0-2 in the CIC.
Brown hadn't played organized football since seventh grade, but he joined the Service football team two weeks ago so his dad could have a chance to watch him play.
His big kick return turned out to be the biggest play in Friday's game, coming directly after an East touchdown pulled the Thunderbirds to within two points with 2:20 remaining in the first half. Brown was barely touched on his 78-yard sprint, and the Cougars went into halftime with a 28-20 lead.
"I've seen in practice, our line blocks amazingly up the middle, so I just knew I wanted to get to the middle and just use my speed," Brown said. "I seen it was open and I took off."
Brown joins a team with plenty of talented players, but none more impressive than senior Amu Aukusitino, who scored five touchdowns one week after scoring four.
Aukusitino, who moved to running back from quarterback earlier this season because of an injury, led all rushers with 157 yards on 25 carries. He added three catches for 68 yards, including a dazzling grab in a crowded end zone on a 37-yard bomb from quarterback C.J. Toomer in the third quarter.
"It's an honor to see a kid like that play, he's something else," said Service lineman Erich Pili, who contributed two sacks. "We're grateful to have him. Right now he's not a 100 percent, he's still recovering from his injuries."
Pili anchored a Service defense that made a tremendous turnaround in the second half.
After allowing East to accumulate 216 rushing yards in a first half that included a 75-yard touchdown run from Diego Su'ate'o, the Cougars held East to four rushing yards in the second half. Many of East's rushing yards came on similar plays between the tackles.
"We came out kind of flat," Pili said. "They kind of targeted our middle, so we just got everybody together and got behind the ball."
East, which was shut out 41-0 by South last week, was a little more lively on offense Friday. Quarterback Jesse Vanilau completed 9 of 10 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, the prettiest play being a designed fade by receiver Jarred Laws in the second quarter that helped East knot the score at 14-14.
"I trust Jarred," Vanilau said. "Throw the ball up in double or triple coverage and he'll get it."
East's first two opponents don't get any tougher than South and Service, who played each other in the state title game last season, so Vanilau thinks the improved play from last week to this week is a good sign.
"That first half, we really showed what we can do," he said.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
East 6 14 \t0 8 -- 28
Service 7 21 15 7 -- 50
East -- Su'ate'o 75 run, (kick fail), 8:17
Service --Aukusitino 1 run, (Raguindin kick), 4:09
Service -- Aukusitino 4 run (Raguindin kick), 9:35
East -- Laws 16 pass from Vanilau (Atiifale run), 7;49
Service -- Aukusitino 2 run (Toomer run), 4:58
East -- Atiifale 8 run (run fail), 2:20
Service -- Brown 78 kickoff return (pass fail), 2:03
Service -- Toomer 25 run (Raguindin kick), 3:03
Service -- Aukusitino 37 pass from Toomer (Raguindin run), :16
East -- Jakeil Bell 22 pass from Jesse Vanilau (Atiifale run), 10:30
Service -- Aukusitino 3 run (Raguindin kick), 6:19
First downs 13 24
Rushes-yards 27-220 40-224
Passing yards 132 233
Return yards 43 110
Passes 9-10-0 12-16-1
Punts 3-25.0 0-0
Penalties-yards 6-54 7-65
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-0
Rushing -- East: Su'ate'o 6-96; Vanilau 12-52; Bell 3-33; Atiifale 3-25; Laws 1-11; Jones 1-3; Lealao 1-0. Service: Aukusitino 25-157; Toomer 11-37; Jones 3-27; Awalin 1-3.
Passing -- East: Vanilau 9-10-0--132. Service: Toomer 12-16-1--233.
Receiving -- East: Bell 2-66; Laws 2-49; Luafulu 2-10; Atiifale 1-3; Powers 1-(-2); Lealao 1-6. Service: Brown 5-102; Aukusitino 3-68; Williamson 2-23; Butler 1-35; Raguindin 1-5.