When Service's Alan Busey returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown Saturday afternoon, it was a promising start for the Cougars.
By the time he returned a second-quarter interception for a 50-yard touchdown, it was clear the Cougars were on their way to next weekend's First National Bowl championship game.
Busey's big plays were part of a 64-21 blowout over Juneau in a state semifinal football game at Chugiak High's Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium. The win earned the Cougars their second straight trip to the state championship game, where they will play South, the winner of a Friday night semifinal.
The game's first highlight was also Busey's first return for a touchdown this season. He said he often gets close and is always looking for a chance to break one open.
"All season, I just wanted my chance to return one," Busey said. "It motivated our team and we kept feeding off the positive energy."
Though Juneau bounced back with a touchdown to tie the score 7-7, it didn't take Service long to show why it owns a 9-0-1 record and finished first in the Cook Inlet Conference.
Using strong blocking from their offensive line and the quick feet of their ball carriers, the Cougars built a 22-7 lead after one quarter, and it quickly got much worse for the Crimson Bears.
Service scored twice in the opening minute of the second quarter. Erich Pili punched in a short touchdown run four seconds into the quarter and Busey made his big interception return on Juneau's next possession to put Service ahead 36-7 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
Busey said the Cougars believed the game was pretty much over at that point, but that didn't mean they let up.
"We never get complacent," he said. "We never look past our opponents."
The Cougars scored two more touchdowns before halftime to lead 50-7 at the break and added two third-quarter touchdowns to extend the lead to 64-7.
Heads were not hanging on the Juneau sideline, however. The Crimson Bears (8-2) kept playing hard and managed to put up two late touchdowns.
"We're all good friends," said Juneau quarterback Phillip Fenumiai, a junior. "It's an emotional game. We kept playing for our seniors."
The Crimson Bears were hooting and hollering about the last touchdown, a 29-yard run by senior Alex Matheson, a linebacker who had never scored an offensive touchdown.
"That was the first carry of my high school career," he said. "Coach turned around and said 'Who wants to carry the ball?' so I raised my hand."
Being on the losing end of a blowout is tough, Matheson said, but his touchdown helped alleviate the pain.
"When you get that one special one, it gets the whole team worked up," he said.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Juneau 7 0 7 7 -- 21
Service 22 28 14 0 -- 64
Service -- Busey 92 kickoff return (Bomar kick), 11:44.
Juneau -- Fenumiai 2 run (Soto kick), 6:54
Service -- Ilalio 5 run (Busey pass from Aukusitino), 4:47.
Service -- Murakami 8 run (Bomar kick), 2:22.
Service -- Pili 3 run (Bomar kick), 11:56.
Service -- Busey 50 interception return (Bomar kick), 11:00.
Service -- Aukusitino 1 run (Bomar kick), 8:31.
Service -- Ilalio 16 pass from Aukusitino (Bomar kick), 5:31
Service -- Williams 14 pass from Aukusitino (Bomar kick), 6:27
Service -- Toomer 37 run (Bomar kick), 3:39
Juneau -- Niumataevalu 2 run (Soto kick), :25.
Juneau -- Matheson 29 run (Soto kick), 2:33.
First Downs 11 17
Return yards 59 169
Rushing yards 30-191 27-286
Passing yards 73 146
Passes 7-22-2 10-14-0
Penalties 10-70 8-78
Punts 3-32.7 1-18.0
Fumbles 1-1 1-0
Rushing -- Juneau: Niumataevalu 6-56; Campos 7-37; Ibias 9-34; Matheson 1-29; Fifita 2-25; Fenumiai 4-13; Nauer 1- (3). Service: Aukusitino 3-87; Murakami 7-77; Toomer 4-74; lalio 5-40; Raguindin 5-5; Pili 2-3; Ellis 1-0.
Passing -- Juneau: Fenumiai 7-21-1--73; Niumataevalu 0-1-1--0. Service: Aukusitino 9-13-0--146; Toomer 1-1-0--3.
Receiving -- Juneau: Niunataevalu 3-15; Ibias 2-19; Campos 1-30; Speck 1-8; Brassfield 1-8; Fifita 1-1. Service: Busey 2-44; Butler 2-41; Ilalio 2-31; Williamson 2-30; Aliju 1-3.
By JEREMY PETERS
Anchorage Daily News