Service quarterback C.J. Toomer did his best Peyton Manning impersonation Saturday night, but it wasn't enough to overcome Chugiak's rushing tandem of Gabe Mingledorff and Karson Forbush at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium.
The Mustangs pulled out a thrilling 27-26 victory in the most exciting Cook Inlet Conference football game this season, and one of the most captivating in the last several years.
The list of highlights in a game that featured five lead changes and a tie are almost endless, but the big playmaker at the end of the game was Chugiak linebacker Kenny Pegues.
The brawny senior blasted through the Service line to sack Toomer on two consecutive plays and put an end to the Cougars' final drive. Needing a field goal to win, Service drove to the Chugiak 30 with just more than a minute remaining when Pegues sacked Toomer at the 37 on third down. He dropped Toomer for a 10-yard loss on the next play, forcing the Cougars to turn the ball over on downs at the Chugiak 47.
Chugiak knelt on the ball twice and put its third win in the books, while handing Service its first loss.
"Everybody was doubting us and thinking we're not the real deal," said Pegues. "We came out here and proved to everybody that we can play with the big boys."
Service (3-1, 2-1 CIC), which has reached the state championship game in each of the last three seasons and won a title in 2011, came in on a three-game winning streak. Chugiak (3-1, 2-1 CIC) was coming off a disappointing 6-0 loss to Dimond that left Chugiak coach Duncan Shackelford questioning his team's toughness. Saturday's game was a complete turnaround, Shackelford said.
"I was proud of the way our kids played together and that was important for us," he said. "We stepped it up tonight."
Service was missing nine starters due to a combination of injuries and suspensions. Four Cougars were ejected from last week's game with Bartlett for participating in a brawl, forcing them to miss the game with Chugiak. Six defensive starters were absent and Service coach Kevin Kern said it made stopping Chugiak's running game a challenge.
"We knew it was gonna be a battle," Kern said. "Defensively, we were soft in the middle and that's where they hurt us a lot."
Chugiak finished with 300 rushing yards, with Mingledorff accounting for 186 and Forbush racking 101. Mingledorff and Forbush were both key cogs in Chugiak's game-winning drive, a seven-play gem that took about three minutes.
On third-and-9 from Chugiak's 22-yard line, Mustangs quarterback Ben Stewart heaved one of his rare passes, down the left sideline, and Mingledorff juggled it before securing it and racing 47 yards.
"When I saw (Mingledorff) down there, honestly I didn't think he was gonna get it," Pegues said. "It looked like it was too far out of his reach."
Two plays later, facing third-and-11 from the Service 33, Mingledorff broke a 23-yard run that set up a 10-yard touchdown run from Forbush with 2:47 to play.
As a team built to run and grind out wins with a lead, the late touchdown drive was a remarkable one for Chugiak.
Pegues wasn't so sure things would work out when the Mustangs fell behind 26-21 on a 30-yard touchdown strike from Toomer to Thavun Srisaneha, who finished with 145 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Toomer finished with four touchdown passes and 276 yards.
"Shack was like, 'We're gonna run the wishbone,' and we were like, 'What are we doing?' " Pegues said. "We just trusted (Shackelford). He's used to these big games and running his little wishbone and that pulled us through."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Service 0 7 13 6 -- 26
Chugiak 6 7 8 6 -- 27
Chugiak -- Mingledorff 59 run (run fail), 8:52.
Chugiak -- Stewart 1 run (Jorgensen kick), 11:28.
Service -- Srisaneha 48 pass from Toomer (Van Allen kick), :08.
Service -- Sriseneha 30 pass from Toomer, (kick fail), 8:04.
Service -- Aliju 38 pass from Toomer (Van Allen kick), 4:32.
Chugiak -- Forbush 41 run (Quigley run), 3:27.
Service -- Sriseneha 30 pass from Toomer (kick failed), 5:54.
Chugiak -- Forbush 10 run (run failed), 2:47.
First downs 12 19
Rushes-yards 22-41 49-300
Passing yards 276 70
Return yards 102 50
Passes 16-32-1 4-13-0
Punts 6-43.7 6-26.8
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 11-90 12-100
RUSHING -- Service: Toomer 11-14, Jones 7-15, Bibbs 4-13. Chugiak: Mingledorff 19-186, Forbush 18-101, Quigley 6-20, Bensel 1-1, Stewart 5-(-8).
PASSING -- Service: Toomer 16-32-1--276. Chugiak: Stewart 4-13-0--70.
RECEIVING -- Service: Srisaneha 4-145, Aliju 4-76, Johnson 3-21, Jones 2-2, Bibbs 1-17, Raguindin 1-9, Mcleod 1-6. Chugiak: Mingledorff 2-46, Oldenkamp 1-19, Forbush 1-5.