It wasn't the prettiest football game ever played, but the long-awaited Cook Inlet Conference showdown between Service and South lived up to the billing.
Played in a steady rain from start to finish, the rematch of last season's state title game was every bit as hard-hitting and highlight-filled. The final result was in doubt until the last play, but ended with defending champion Service on top again, 21-14 at Anchorage Football Stadium.
Service improved to 5-1 overall and 5-0 in the CIC, and South fell to 4-2 overall and 4-1 in the CIC with two weeks of regular-season play remaining. The Wolverines had a shot at reversing those records with one final frenzied drive.
With less than two minutes remaining and trailing 21-14, the Wolverines took over for their final drive from their own 20-yard line. Aided by a 15-yard personal foul on Service's Hiapo McCandless, the Wolverines blazed across midfield. South quarterback Zach Lujan furnished four of his eight completions on the final drive for 65 of his 93 passing yards, moving the Wolverines inside the Service 10 for first-and-goal with about 30 seconds remaining.
"I was like, 'Oh, I put the team in jeopardy,'" said McCandless. "It was really crunch time."
South was unable to capitalize, however, as the center snapped the ball over Lujan's head on what turned out to be the final play of the game. Lujan recovered the ball, and was tackled well behind the line of scrimmage and with no timeouts remaining, South was unable to run another play.
Ball control was an issue for both teams throughout the game. The rainy conditions no doubt played a role in six combined fumbles. South fumbled the ball four times, but never lost possession, while Service lost both of its fumbles
"It was tough, especially catching the ball," Service's Nick Butler said. "The ball was soaking wet."
Butler's only catch of the game was one of the biggest, a 29-yard scoring play from quarterback Amu Aukusitino, who threw for two scores and ran for another. Butler's score put Service up 14-7 with 1:22 remaining in the first half, but South was quick to answer.
The Wolverines needed every one of the first half's final 80 seconds to run eight plays, the last of which was a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Lujan to even it at 14-14 going into halftime.
Aukusitino, who led all rushers with 81 yards on 22 carries, gave Service the lead for good on a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and the Cougars' defense did the rest.
Butler was awarded Service's defensive game ball by coach Numi Ilalio and said the key to shutting South out in the second half was reading the run.
"They like to run outside all the time and if we can beat them there, we shut them down," said Butler, who usually plays safety, but shifted to cornerback this week to fill in for injured players.
The toughest thing about playing against Service is the way the Cougars change their game plan week to week, Lujan said. Of course, the Wolverines will look forward to a possible post-season rematch.
"I wouldn't have it any other way," said Lujan.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
South 7 7 0 0 -- 14
Service 0 14 7 0 -- 21
South -- Autry 9 run (Imlach kick), 5:44.
Service -- Brown 14 pass from Aukusitino (Raguindin kick), 6:33.
Service -- Butler 29 pass from Aukusitino (Raguindin kick), 1:22.
South -- Lujan 1 run (Imlach kick), :00
Service -- Aukusitino 3 run (Raguindin kick), 5:04.
First Downs 11 18
Rushes-yards 43-123 33-127
Passing yards 93 142
Return yards 23 30
Passes 8-17-0 12-20-3
Punts 2-26.0 3-37.6
Fumbles-lost 4-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 7-73 8-80
RUSHING -- South: Autrey 7-68; Williams 9-27; Hopp 6-15; Loewe 5-12; Sauder 2-8; Faagau 2-8; A. West 2-4; Settle 1-0; Lujan 8 (-29). Service: Aukusitino 22-81; Pili 7-35; Corder 3-8; Toomer 1-3.
PASSING -- South: Lujan 8-17-0--93. Service: Aukusitino 12-20-3--142.
RECEIVING -- South: Settle 2-33; Page 2-17; Autrey 1-15; Hopp 1-15; Williams 1-10; Toomey 1-3. Service -- Williamson 4-61; Brown 4-58; Butler 1-29; Srisaneha 1-11; Aliju 1-8; Robinson 1-5;