The Service Cougars came into Saturday's Cook Inlet Conference showdown with West looking to continue their quest for the top seed in next month's state football playoffs. They left Anchorage Football Stadium with a whole new respect for the Eagles.
The West defense came up with seven turnovers, including four interceptions of Service quarterback C.J. Toomer, who left the game in the second half with an injury. West's Leroy Elliot added a highlight-filled, four-touchdown performance, and the Eagles rolled to a 52-16 homecoming win.
"If we would have won this, I thought we were in pretty good shape to wrap (the CIC) up," said Service coach Kevin Kern. "Right now, I think West is in pretty good shape to wrap it up."
After losing its first two games, West has rattled off five straight wins and shown steady improvement from week to week. The Eagles (5-2 overall, 5-1 CIC) are tied with defending state champion South for first place in the league.
South, which thumped Dimond 42-14 on Friday, will meet West on Thursday at AFS in a game that will decided the regular-season title.
Service was already assured one of the five CIC state playoff berths coming into Saturday's game and sits in a tie for third with Chugiak. Both teams own 5-2 overall records and 4-2 CIC records.
Saturday's game was close until West took charge late in the first half, when defensive back Shanai Leon snagged his second and third interceptions of the game -- and of his career -- on back-to-back Service possessions.
Leon, a sophomore, said his coaches warned him his youth might make him a prime target for the Service passing game. His coaches were right.
"I got beat a couple times, but I got through it, got my picks and gave my team a chance to win the game," Leon said. "This is my greatest game I ever had."
With West leading 14-13 and less than two minutes to play in the first half, Service was threatening to score when Leon made his second pick. West took possession on its own 20-yard line and Elliot took the ball 80 yards to the end zone to give West a 21-13 lead with 57 seconds to go.
Service was moving down the field in chunks on its next possession when Leon halted the drive with his third interception. That set up a 72-yard screen pass from West quarterback Tyrone Davis to Elliot, who crossed the goal line after time had expired. Davis Ortland kicked an extra point and West led 28-13 at intermission.
Service capped its first drive of the second half with a field goal, but it was all West after that.
Elliot, a wide receiver who was lining up in the wildcat formation, plowed in for a 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to put West up 35-16.
Toomer suffered a rib injury on Service's next position. Kern said it doesn't look serious, but Toomer was held out for the remainder of the game as a precaution.
Things went from bad to worse for the Cougars in the fourth quarter, when West added two touchdowns in a span of 10 seconds. Jordan Murchison returned an interception 57 yards for a score with 10:07 to play and Service fumbled the ensuing kickoff right into the hands of West's Gary Hamburg, who rumbled in for a 5-yard touchdown with 9:57 to play.
When Ortland tacked on a 36-yard field goal with 5:47 to play, a running clock was put into effect due to the mercy rule.
"This coaching thing is so awesome, to be around these young men and watch them grow," said West coach Tim Davis. "It was a great victory for our guys. Our players made plays happen and my hat's off to every one of my kids for their effort, their preparation and their hard work."
Contact reporter Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or by calling 257-4335.
Service 7 6 3 0 -- 16
West 7 21 7 17 -- 52
Service -- Aliju 11 pass from Toomer (Van Allen kick), 10:11.
West -- Elliot 16 pass from Davis (Ortland kick), 3:42.
West -- Davis 18 run (Ortland kick), 10:29.
Service -- Srisaneha 23 pass from Toomer (Van Allen kick), 10:09
West -- Elliot 80 run (Ortland kick), :57
West -- Elliot 72 pass from Davis (Ortland kick), :00
Service -- Van Allen 28 FG, 8:46
West -- Elliot 5 run (Ortland kick), 3:31
West -- Murchison 57 interception return (Ortland kick), 10:07
West -- Hamburg 5 fumble return (Ortland kick), 9:57
West -- Ortland 36 FG, 5:47
First downs 16 16
Rushes-yards 27-62 31-183
Passing yards 305 198
Return yards 155 99
Passes 26-53-6 12-20-1
Punts 6-27.8 5-36.0
Fumbles-lost 3-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 9-90 4-34
RUSHING -- Service: Peltola 13-60; Tatum 7-5; Johnson 1-0; Aliju 1-(-3); Toomer 5-(-14). West: Elliot 4-97; Faamasino 12-55; Cypers 2-17; Davis 7-11; Seui 2-8; Murchison 3-2; Duffy 1-(-7).
PASSING -- Service: Toomer 24-40-4--260; Tatum 2-13-2--45. West: Davis 12-20-1--198.
RECEIVING -- Service: Sriseneha 13-203; Aliju 7-76; Peltola 3-14; Fromm 2-13; Johnson 1-4. West: Elliot 6-144; Rayford 5-36; Cordero 1-18.
By JEREMY PETERS