Mission accomplished for the South football team.
All season, the Wolverines made no secret about wanting another shot at Service after losing to the Cougars in last season's state championship game, and Saturday's rematch turned out just the way South envisioned -- with the school's second state title and its first since 2006.
In what was easily one of the best games of the season, the Wolverines took care of business with a 28-19 win at a cold, windy Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium in Chugiak, shutting out a potent Service offense in the second half.
"Coming from 361 days ago to today, this is just a complete 180," South quarterback Zach Lujan said. "There is no better feeling in the world."
In front of bleachers that were nearly filled to capacity, the Wolverines (9-2) used an old-fashioned, bruising style of football to frustrate Service (9-2).
South only attempted five passes and Lujan didn't complete any of them, but the Wolverines gained 243 yards on the ground to Service's 66. Service quarterback Amu Aukusitino, who rushed for 301 yards in last weekend's semifinal win over West, was sacked seven times and finished with 48 rushing yards.
"They studied us really well," Aukusitino said. "They contained our offense."
South senior Tommy Hopp led all rushers with 101 yards on 15 carries, nine totes more than he received in any other game this season. South's Dante Williams provided big runs on his way to 88 yards on eight carries.
"I knew it was gonna be part of the game plan," Hopp said. "We had to just keep the ball out of their hands and move the ball."
Trailing 19-14 at halftime, South scored 14 unanswered points in the second half, starting with a nifty 51-yard run from Williams to go up 21-19 and finishing with a 5-yard run from Sharif Taha.
The score was Taha's second, and it was an acrobatic one. After following his blockers to the left sideline and finding open space, he went airborne over the left pylon.
"When I saw Matt (Ilalio) coming at me, all I thought about was him going for my legs and I just jumped up, landed on my head and I was in the end zone," Taha said. "I knew we needed it and knew if we got it the game would be over."
South kicker Eyob Imlach booted his fourth extra point to put South up by nine points with 5:38 remaining and the South sideline started to celebrate.
Needing two more scores for a comeback win, Service drove across midfield on its next possession, but Kahlil Autry intercepted a deep fourth-down pass from Aukusitino to seal the win with 3:10 remaining.
"Credit to South, they were the better team today," Service coach Numi Ilalio said. "Overall my kids had a good season, unfortunately we came up short."
Service hadn't lost a game to South in six meetings and hadn't lost to an Alaska opponent since losing the 2010 state title game to West, 6-0. Saturday's loss denied the Cougars a seventh state title.
South established a physical tone on its first drive, using five running plays to take a 7-0 lead less than two minutes in on a 9-yard sprint from Taha.
A fired-up South defense forced Service to punt after its first three plays, but the wind helped set up a touchdown for the Cougars on their next possession.
Service booted a 69-yard punt downwind toward the south end of the field, pinning the Wolverines on their own 2. After South failed to get a first down, its ensuing 3-yard punt into the wind set the Cougars up on South's 12 . Aukusitino flew into the end zone with a quarterback sweep on the next play to tie it at 7-7.
Williams set up a 1-yard Hopp touchdown with a clutch 22-yard scamper on a third-and-six play in the second quarter, but then Aukusitino took over.
The senior quarterback who accounted for seven touchdowns in each of Service's previous two postseason games fired a pretty pass into the wind to a streaking Nik Butler (145 receiving yards) for a 59-yard score that pulled Service within 14-13.
A failed two-point conversion left the Cougars down by a point with 2:51 left in the half, but Aukusitino ended South's next possession with an interception that he returned to the South 27.
A personal foul on South advanced the ball to the 12, and Aukusitino completed a short scoring drive with a 1-yard keeper to put Service up 19-14 at halftime.
"Amu Aukusitino, that's one special player," said Lujan.
There was no panic in the Wolverines' locker room during halftime, Lujan said, and that may have been the difference in this year's title game and last year's.
"As a team we were a lot more positive, more upbeat when things weren't going our way," he said.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
South 7 \t7 7 7 -- 28
Service 7 12 0 0 -- 19
South -- Taha 9 run (Imlach kick) 10:12
Service -- Aukusitino 12 run (Raguindin kick) 5:53
South -- Hopp 1 run (Imlach kick) 4:24
Service -- Butler 59 pass from Aukisitino (run fail) 2:51
Service -- Aukusitino 1 run (run fail) :52.1
South-- Dante Williams 51 run (Imlach kick), 4:31
South -- Taha 5 run (Imlach kick), 5:38.
First downs 12 12
Rushes-yards 41-243 34-66
Passing yards 0 177
Return yards 36 37
Passes 0-5-1 11-22-1
Punts 4-27.5 3-33.3
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 7-50 5-40
RUSHING -- South: Hopp 15-101; Williams 8-88; Taha 6-24; Autry 2-18; Lujan 7-12; Faagau 1-1; Esplin 2-(-1). Service: Aukusitino 28-48; Corder 3-8; Pili 2-6; Brown 1-4.
PASSING -- South: Lujan 0-5-1--0. Service: Aukusitino 11-22-1--177.
RECEIVING -- South: none. Service: Butler 7-145; Brown 2-13; Ilalio 1-12; Robinson 1-7.
Past champions Large Schools Year Winner Runner-up Score 2012 South Service 28-19 2011 Service South 37-23 2010 West Service 6-0 2009 Bartlett Chugiak 21-3 2008 Service Juneau 22-14 2007 Juneau Palmer 23-13 2006 South Colony 26-16 2005 Juneau Palmer 49-29 2004 North Pole West 44-13 2003 East Juneau 33-15 2002 Bartlett Chugiak 34-13 2001 Dimond Bartlett 16-0 2000 Dimond Colony 28-21 1999 Service Wasilla 49-0 1998 Service Dimond 48-20 1997 Service Chugiak 47-14 1996 Chugiak Palmer 24-19 1995 Palmer Chugiak 12-7 1994 Service Chugiak 16-14 1993 Dimond Eielson 20-19 1992 Eielson Soldotna 28-9 1991 Bartlett Eielson 27-0 1990 East Soldotna 36-7* 1989 Bartlett West Valley 14-7 1988 Chugiak Soldotna 20-18 1987 East North Pole 41-6 1986 East Palmer 29-18 1985 East Lathrop 26-0 1984 Chugiak Lathrop 8-5 1983 Dimond Soldotna 21-0
*1990 was the first season of the Alaska School Activities Association state tournament. Past champions Large Schools Year Winner Runner-up Score 2012 South Service 28-19 2011 Service South 37-23 2010 West Service 6-0 2009 Bartlett Chugiak 21-3 2008 Service Juneau 22-14 2007 Juneau Palmer 23-13 2006 South Colony 26-16 2005 Juneau Palmer 49-29 2004 North Pole West 44-13 2003 East Juneau 33-15 2002 Bartlett Chugiak 34-13 2001 Dimond Bartlett 16-0 2000 Dimond Colony 28-21 1999 Service Wasilla 49-0 1998 Service Dimond 48-20 1997 Service Chugiak 47-14 1996 Chugiak Palmer 24-19 1995 Palmer Chugiak 12-7 1994 Service Chugiak 16-14 1993 Dimond Eielson 20-19 1992 Eielson Soldotna 28-9 1991 Bartlett Eielson 27-0 1990 East Soldotna 36-7* 1989 Bartlett West Valley 14-7 1988 Chugiak Soldotna 20-18 1987 East North Pole 41-6 1986 East Palmer 29-18 1985 East Lathrop 26-0 1984 Chugiak Lathrop 8-5 1983 Dimond Soldotna 21-0
*1990 was the first season of the Alaska School Activities Association state tournament.
By JEREMY PETERS