The big plot point Thursday night centered on Service's second straight Cook Inlet Conference football championship, yet the Cougars' 41-20 victory over West was filled with smaller narratives both somber and scintillating.
While defending state champion Service (7-1 overall, 7-0 CIC) completed its undefeated roll through the conference and seized the league's No. 1 playoff seed, West competed without its most lethal weapon and a handful of its best players, all out with injuries.
Still, the Eagles (5-3, 5-2 CIC), who have the league's No. 3 playoff seed, received some feel-good performances from sophomores making their varsity debuts.
Service received a command performance from senior all-state quarterback Amu Aukusitino in the first half of the regular-season finale -- he completed 14 of 17 passes for 163 yards and four touchdowns before the break. He connected twice each with Kylelle Brown and Nick Butler for scores.
Michael Corder added a rushing touchdown for Service, and Ihro Raguindin connected on fourth-quarter fields goals from 32 yards and 37 yards.
The penalty-prone Cougars also committed just one penalty for five yards in the first half, and just four penalties for 40 yards in the game. Other than a couple of those penalties and two fumbles, Service coach Numi Ilalio was pleased.
"I thought they stayed focused,'' Ilalio said. "This is probably the first time I've seen them this focused this season. They played the way I expected, very disciplined.''
Yet a game that looked marquee when the schedule came out lost some of its luster because West senior all-state quarterback Conor Feckley was reduced to looking sharp walking the sidelines in a shirt and tie -- and a brace on his right knee.
Feckley suffered a sprained knee in last Friday's loss to South, the CIC's No. 2 playoff seed, and is questionable for the first round of the state playoffs next week. He said he's progressing -- he couldn't walk on the knee last weekend -- and hopeful.
Moments before the opening kickoff, Aukusitino and teammate Matthew Ilalio, the coach's son, jogged over to the West sideline at Anchorage Football Stadium to give Feckley a handshake and a hug. The three played youth football together, coached by Numi Ilalio, who called Feckley his son's first best friend after the Ilalio family moved to Anchorage when Matthew was in grade school.
Wednesday night, Numi Ilalio called Feckley to lend encouragement and tell him that no matter what happens with his knee, he'll play college football.
"He's been a huge inspiration to me,'' Feckley said. "It was awesome to get words of advice from him.''
The Eagles also played without running backs Lincoln Tulimasaelii and Nathan Sailele, and fullback/defensive end Lui Faamasino -- all three were held out with injuries in the hope they'll be stronger for the playoffs. And receiver Leroy Elliott, who caught two passes and stripped a Service ballcarrier for a short return, played sparingly.
Without Feckley, the Eagles opted much of the night for a Wildcat offense, with Jacob Faualo commanding the ball. Faualo rushed 24 times for 115 yards and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Eric Vandervort.
Sophomore quarterback Sam Wedin, who played a handful of series in his first varsity game for West, completed 7 of 13 passes and threw a late 8-yard touchdown pass to Gelano Bell, another sophomore making his varsity debut.
"A lot of people think we need Conor Feckley, and we do,'' Faualo said. "But we just came out and played football. To see the sophomores step up and prove they can play was great. I believe they earned their spots on varsity.''
West also received an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from sophomore Jordan Murchison in his varsity debut.
"That,'' said a beaming Murchison, "was fun.''
West coach Tim Davis was about as happy as you'll ever see a coach after defeat. His team battled, and his sophomores shined.
"Way cool,'' Davis said. "I'm thrilled. Super proud.''
Davis, who in 2010 guided the Eagles to the state championship, congratulated the Cougars.
"Hats off to them, winning the conference championship,'' he said. "I know what that's like, and they've done it two years in a row.''
Aukusitino, who played offense less than three quarters, threw for 176 yards and rushed for 86 yards, and pronounced himself pleased with his team's effort and execution.
"We knew Conor and some of their others players were injured, and we didn't want to take them lightly,'' Aukusitino said. "We wanted to play our game, and we did.
"We did really well and a lot of our (substitutes) stepped up. I was really happy with our performance.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
West 0 7 0 13 -- 20
Service 21 7 7 6 -- 41
Service -- Butler 16 pass from Aukusitino (Raguindin kick), 8:59.
Service -- Brown 16 pass from Aukusitino (Raguindin kick), 6:11.
Service -- Brown 26 pass from Aukusitino (Raguindin kick), 3:01.
Service -- Butler 20 pass from Aukusitino (Raguindin kick), 6:20.
West -- Vandervort 1 pass from Faualo (Carson kick), :07.
Service -- Corder 6 run (Raguindin kick), 7:47.
Service -- FG 32 Raguindin 32, 8:34.
West -- Murchison 87 kickoff return, (Carson kick), 8:16.
Service -- FG 37 Raguindin 37, 3:24.
West -- Bell 8 pass from Wedin (kick failed) :16.
First downs 11 20
Rushes-yards 30-110 42-208
Passing yards 123 207
Return yards 173 110
Passes 10-19-2 17-24-0
Punts 5-35.0 0-0.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 9-55 4-40
RUSHING -- West: Faualo 24-115, Tulilimu 1-16, Fuller 2-16, Wedin 3-(-37). Service: Aukusitino 11-86, Corder 11-69, Jones 9-34, Milo 5-10, Toomer 2-4, Awailin 2-4, Pili 1-2, Raguindin 1-(-1).
PASSING -- West: Wedin 7-13-0--86, Faualo 3-6-2--37. Service: Aukusitino 15-20-0--176, Toomer 2-4-0--31.
RECEIVING -- West: Vandervort 5-79, Elliott 2-24, Bell 2-17, Wilson 1-3. Service: Brown 4-68, Butler 4-57, Toomer 4-23, Hedstrom 2-31, Williamson 2-21, Robinson 1-7.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News