Confronted by a winless Chugiak team that nonetheless proved its physical and emotional equal most of the first half Saturday afternoon, the defending state champion Service Cougars in the second half mimicked a traditional Mustang philosophy.
Hello, smash-mouth football.
Service unleashed dominating touchdown drives on its first three possessions of the second half, running primarily between the tackles to deliver a 43-12 Cook Inlet Conference victory at Anchorage Football Stadium.
"It was based on what my offensive line was telling me during halftime,'' said Cougars coach Numi Ilalio. "Sometimes, you have to listen to the kids. They said, 'Coach, we can run right up the middle.' "
Those three Service drives featured a combined 35 plays for 190 yards, chewed 13 minutes, 11 seconds -- more than one quarter -- off the clock, and resulted in two short touchdown runs by Michael Corder and another by Levi Hansen.
Of those 35 plays, 28 were rushing attempts. By comparison, the Cougars in the first half rushed 20 times and passed 18 times.
Service center Michael Muller-Stubblefield said he and his linemates were excited for the second half because running the ball meant they could impose their will on Chugiak, which traditionally sports a run-heavy attack.
"We were going to take a play from their playbook and run the ball,'' he said.
The Cougars (4-1, 4-0 CIC) delivered 10 first downs on those three drives. Corder rushed for 47 yards on nine carries in that stretch and Eric Jones covered 39 yards on six carries as Service pressed the mute button on a Chugiak sideline that in the first half had been pumped and loud.
In other words, it was an offensive lineman's dream.
"Best feeling in the world, to tell you the truth,'' Muller-Stubblefield said. "When you're overpowering a team and you can see they're getting tired, it's the best feeling in the world.''
In that span, thanks to Corder recovering of an onside kick, the Cougars ran 35 plays to Chugiak's four. And a game Service led 22-12 at halftime ballooned to a 43-12 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Service quarterback C.J. Toomer completed 6 of 7 seven passes for 86 yards during those three drives and finished 18 of 25 for 228 yards. Service converted on fourth down in each of the three drives, two of the first downs coming courtesy of hookups between Toomer and Nick Butler.
At that point, Service's depth showed, as did Chugiak's lack thereof.
"It's like being a boxer,'' said Chugiak coach Duncan Shackelford. "You can be as well-conditioned as you want, but if you take 150 body shots, things start to dissipate.''
The first half, though, played out like a match of equals.
Chugiak (0-5, 0-4 CIC) scored first, on the first of two Chase Wilson field goals, received a 12-yard touchdown run from Dane Prince and led three different times. Service countered with Toomer's 12-yard touchdown run and a pair of huge plays from Kylelle Brown.
Brown returned an interception of Isaac Temple's pass 21 yards for a touchdown and, with just four seconds remaining in the half, blew past coverage and latched onto Toomer's bomb up the left side for a 68-yard touchdown pass. Brown caught seven passes for 105 yards.
Chugiak's defense three times stopped Service on fourth down in the first half, twice inside the Chugiak 20 and once near midfield.
"We were going after it,'' said Mustangs linebacker Justin Benzel. "We gave it everything we've got. It gave us a boost of confidence and got us going pretty good.''
Chugiak's determination did not go unnoticed by the Cougars.
"They came out fired up and ready to go,'' Muller-Stubblefield said.
Ilaio likewise was impressed.
"They played fantastic in that first half,'' he said. "Those coaches really did a great job. For them, at 0-5 and 0-4, to come out and play like that shows the character of those kids.''
But while the Mustangs ran out of gas in the second half, the Cougars simply switched to their reserve tanks and kept the pedal down.
"(Service coaches) told us we were going to pound it down their throats,'' said Service's Corder. "Execution was the key.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Service 7 15 14 7 -- 43
Chugiak 3 9 0 0 -- 12
Chugiak -- 20 FG Wilson, 8:13.
Service -- Toomer 12 run (Raguindin kick), 1:05.
Chugiak -- Prince 12 run (run failed), 8:44.
Service -- Brown 21 interception return (Corder run), 2:17.
Chugiak -- 30 FG Wilson, :47.
Service -- Brown 68 pass from Toomer (Raguindin kick), :04.
Service-- Corder 1 run (Raguindin kick), 7:15.
Service -- Corder 4 run (Raguindin kick), :13.
Service -- Hansen 1 run (Raguindin kick), 9:19.
First downs 20 9
Rushes-yards 55-248 27-91
Passing yards 228 58
Return yards 79 131
Passes 18-25-0 4-16-1
Punts 0-0.0 2-27.5
Fumbles-lost 2-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 5-50 4-30
RUSHING -- Service: Corder 14-87, Jones 12-63, Toomer 13-54, Raguindin 8-24, Hansen 5-15, Aukusitino 2-4, Williamson 1-1. Chugiak: Timberlake 7-28, Prince 4-25, Benzel 5-10, Temple 3-8, Mayhew 2-8, Forbush 2-6, Rohde 1-3, Capers 2-2, Carnahan 1-1.
PASSING -- Service: Toomer 18-25-0--228. Chugiak: Mayhew 2-7-0--32, Temple 1-8-1--25, Prince 1-1-0--1.
RECEIVING -- Service: Brown 7-105, Robinson 4-34, Butler 3-61, Williamson 2-12, Aliju 1-11, Sheppard 1-5. Chugiak: Ferris 2-41, Oldenkamp 1-16, Benzel 1-1.