South must limit damage by Service's Aukusitino to win championship

Doyle Woody

News flash: A South victory in Saturday's large-school state football championship hinges on its ability to keep Service quarterback Amu Aukusitino from expanding his portfolio of YouTube clips.

These bulletins also just in: The earth is round, the sun rises in the east and many politicians have a somewhat loose relationship with truth.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but while both Service and South are very good, very deep and very complete football teams, only one of them includes the guy who seemingly has more moves than he does vowels in his name, which is saying something.

Not for nothing did Service coach Numi Ilalio earlier this season refer to his quarterback, the state's best player, as the X factor.

That statement came after Service's 21-14 thriller over South last month in a regular-season game that was not decided until the final second elapsed. Aukusitino suffered his share of setbacks that night -- he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble -- but he also threw two touchdown passes and ran for a touchdown that ended up being the game-winner.

The second-most enduring memory from that game is how many times the Wolverines, who generated sustained pressure on Aukusitino, flushed him from the pocket and seemingly had him cornered in the backfield -- that occurred at least 10 times. The most enduring memory, however, was how many times Aukusitino escaped -- every time. Zero sacks.

My play-by-play notes from that game -- and, granted, they are more anecdotal than exact -- feature 10 plays that have the notation "Sc'' next to Aukusitino's number. That's shorthand for a quarterback scrambling.

On four of those occasions Aukusitino ran the ball, totaling 40 yards. On six of those occasions he passed, rifling five completions for 65 yards. That's 105 yards total offense on scrambles alone. And one of them was a 25-yard completion to Kylelle Brown on fourth-and-21, a conversion that preceded Aukusitino's 3-yard touchdown run to furnish Service a 21-14 lead.

Aukusitino rushed 22 times for 81 yards in the game and completed 12 of 20 passes for 142 yards. All in all, that's a strong job by the Wolverines defense. Still, Aukusitino was the difference in the game, with an assist from the Service defense, which held South scoreless in the second half.

South has some home-run hitters of its own -- Kahlil Autry and Dante Williams can be lethal -- and quarterback Zach Lujan is a third-year starter like Aukusitino. He'll need to be sharp Saturday to both lend diversity to the offense and to keep Service's offense on the sidelines.

Don't dismiss South -- remember, the Wolverines were in position to tie their regular-season game with Service in the final seconds before a botched snap brought the game to the end. Plus, South's defense held Service to its fewest points against an Alaska opponent this season.

The Wolverines, who trumpet their conditioning, generally run the ball exceedingly well with their stable of backs. But Service in that game last month limited South to 123 yards on 43 carries. South will likely have to do better than that to prosper Saturday in a rematch of last year's state title game, which Service won 37-23, behind Aukusitino's 294 yards total offense.

Most importantly, though, South success depends on keeping Aukusitino in relative check.

In last week's 49-34 semifinal win over West, Aukusitino rushed 24 times for 301 yards and four touchdowns, passed for 232 yards and three touchdowns and delivered 533 yards total offense. In a 58-10 quarterfinal victory over Juneau, Aukusitino racked 454 all-purpose yards -- in the first half. He threw three touchdown passes, returned three interceptions for touchdowns and returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown.

All of that is all over YouTube.

If Aukusitino makes many more YouTube moments Saturday, Service will win its second straight title and its 20th straight game against Alaska opponents.

So that means South best keep Aukusitino from adding to his highlight-reel resume.

Best of luck with that.





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


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