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Service quarterback Aukusitino proves slippery

So many times Saturday night, Amu Aukusitino seemed certain to be sacked.

And then he was gone.

Better you should try to grab a loose gum wrapper in a tornado than corral Service High's ankle-breaking quarterback.

As quick as he moves, it was a wonder on this rain-soaked evening that he didn't juke between the falling drops.

Trying to collect him is like trying to grasp smoke in your hand. It's right there, and then it gives you the slip -- so close, and still so far.

In the course of Service's taut and tense, clash-of-the-titans 21-14 victory over South, which was only complete when a poor snap by South squandered a remarkable drive and a shot at tying or winning the game in the waning seconds at Anchorage Football Stadium, Aukusitino proved pivotal.

Not that his performance, statistically at least, jumps to the top of his archive of jaw-droppers. The senior all-state quarterback, who hasn't played much QB this season because of injury, threw three interceptions, fumbled away the ball once and copped to rustiness.

Still, he rushed 22 times for a game-high 81 yards and completed 12 of 20 passes for 142 to yards to give him a hand in 223 of Service's 269 yards total offense.

Maybe it's more the measure of Aukusitino that he rebounded from South's relentless defense and his mistakes. He contributed to all three Service touchdowns in this rematch of last season's state large-school championship game, which Service likewise won when Aukusitino generated nearly 300 yards total offense.

Aukusitino threw two touchdown passes in the first half Saturday -- a 15-yarder to Kylelle Brown that was more the product of Brown's tackle-breaking run after the catch and a 29-yarder to a ridiculously wide-open Nick Butler -- and authored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard run while playing tailback in the third quarter.

"He is the X factor,'' said Service coach Numi Ilalio.

No play personified that more than one Aukusitino furnished to preface his game-winning touchdown run. Service faced fourth-and-21 from the South 28 when Aukusitino took the snap in the shotgun and soon found himself seemingly surrounded.

He rolled left. He moved forward. He shuttled back. He moved laterally to his right and then forward again. All that time, Wolverines were in hostile pursuit and the play seemed to last an eternity before Aukusitino found Brown on the left sideline for a 25-yard gain and a first down.

"I know Amu likes to extend plays,'' Brown said. "So, pretty much run around and find an open spot. It felt fast because we were in the heat of the moment. It was like life or death, and I'm living.''

Or, as Aukusitino said, humbly, in his soft voice: "I just use my athletic ability.''

Against a lesser quarterback, South no doubt would have piled up the sacks and left the quarterback bruised and battered. But the Wolverines, despite their tremendous rush most of the night and an effort we can only hope is a tease for a playoff rematch next month, hardly put a hand on Aukusitino.

Ilalio said Aukusitino's athletic ability and knowledge of defenses allows him to flourish.

"I started teaching him that when I made him a starting quarterback as a sophomore, because I knew he has the ability to be very mobile,'' Ilalio said. "(I taught him to) understand where the defensive threats are at and how to avoid them.''

Aukusitino has mostly played at running back on offense this season, and junior C.J. Toomer has stepped in at quarterback and shined. But in the biggest game of the season for both No. 2-ranked South and No. 4-ranked Service, who both entered as unbeatens in the Cook Inlet Conference, Ilalio didn't announce his starting quarterback until just before kick-off.

Ilalio went with his gut and chose Aukusitino -- "Instincts,'' he said.

Toomer occasionally shuttled in to play quarterback when the Cougars went to their run-heavy package and placed Aukusitino at tailback and 305-pound lineman Erich Pili (seven carries, 35 yards) at fullback.

Yet this pad-pounding game -- unofficially, eight personal fouls, five on Service and three on South -- in many ways was decided by Aukusitino's elusiveness. He said he didn't panic when things started so roughly for him with a lost fumble and an interception on Service's first two possessions.

"I have people on the sidelines who help me,'' Aukusitino said. "They pick me up and tell me to forget about it and make the next play. C.J., he always encourages me.''

And with that, Aukusitino made the last of his rounds greeting friends and family after the game, and then headed to the team bus.

For once on this night, he finally took it slow.

This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.



Doyle Woody
dwoody@adn.com