After the Service High football team treated visiting Wasilla mercilessly Saturday, the Cougars continued the theme when their head coach made one of the day's rare missteps for the green and gold.
Following a season-opening 57-10 victory, Jason Caldarera praised his team's effort and the work of his assistant coaches. He told the Cougars to be on their best behavior the rest of the weekend and get ready for a tough West team this week.
Caldarera, who was Service head coach for 12 years and led the Cougars to two state championships, is back at the helm following Kevin Kern's resignation less than two weeks before season's start because of work obligations and a family health situation.
But Caldarera, who is continuing his previous duties as Service's offensive coordinator, also remains the head coach of the Service girls flag football team. As he prepared to tell Service's tackle football team to come together for a tight post-game huddle Saturday, he prefaced that eventual request by saying, "OK, ladies…''
And thus was a blushing Caldarera roundly booed, hooted and shouted down by his laughing players.
That was a rare oops on a day of Cougar whoops.
Service used running back Dominik Norman's 144 yards rushing and four touchdowns, quarterback Xavier Harris' excellent varsity debut – 13 of 21 for 221 yards and two touchdowns – and a dogged defense to wallop the Warriors. Service permitted Wasilla 54 yards total offense on 37 plays.
Given that Caldarera has been part of the Service football staff for two decades and has worked with current Cougar assistants for years, the switch in head coaches barely caused a ripple.
"It was a very easy transition,'' said Service middle linebacker Hunter Fanning after he spent much of the afternoon delivering crushing hits in Wasilla's backfield. "We love Coach Kern and appreciate what he did for this program, and we love and respect Coach Caldarera.''
Caldarera called the transition smooth, though busy. For instance, he'll be guiding flag football practices for a couple hours immediately after the final bell, and then guiding the tackle football practices.
"But these are the same guys I coached with as the head coach before, and that's how we've been able to do it,'' Caldarera said. "And these kids have been lifting (weights) together and going to camps together. Our practices have been normal.''
After a slow start Saturday – Wasilla opened the scoring on quarterback Hunter Hongslo's 24-yard option touchdown three minutes into the game – the Cougars soon kicked into gear and pulled away from Wasilla.
Harris hooked up with Mark Hogan for a 17-yard touchdown late in the first quarter, and the Cougars blitzed the Warriors for four second-quarter touchdowns.
Norman rushed for his first touchdown and Xavier Harris hit Leslie Harris for a 37-yard catch-and-run that furnished Service a 21-7 lead.
Stunningly, Wasilla left the football unattended on Service's ensuing long squib kick and Kylar Holbert recovered the ball. That led to Xavier Harris' 1-yard touchdown run. On Wasilla's second play from scrimmage after that, Austin Ato's big hit forced a fumble that Isiah Perry recovered, and Norman followed three plays later with a 5-yard touchdown run for a 35-7 lead that held until halftime.
"You have some jitters early, and once we got past that, the offense picked it up,'' Xavier Harris said. "We took it and kept running.''
Harris is just a sophomore. Same for Fanning, who was Service's starting middle linebacker as a freshman. Norman and Hogan are juniors. In all, 23 of the 38 players listed on Service's roster – 60 percent – are sophomores or juniors.
Sure, there's some pressure in being a young leader, Harris said, but that comes with responsibility.
"I've just got to carry the weight,'' he said.
For one game, that appeared to be no problem. Harris absorbed several big hits after he unleashed passes and ate a few more when pitching the ball on the option, but seemed unconcerned.
"Making really good fakes involves taking really good hits,'' he said.
Wasilla in the fourth quarter received a 40-yard field goal from junior Carson Reed, who also averaged 42.3 yards on six punts.
Service now looks ahead to Friday's game against West, which opened the season with a 45-15 road win over West Valley.
"That's going to be a showdown, and that's our focus,'' Fanning said.
Wasilla – Hongslo 24 run (Reed kick), 8:56.
Service – Hogan 17 pass from X. Harris (Q. Harris kick), 2:10.
Service – Norman 1 run (Q. Harris kick), 8:15.
Service – L. Harris 37 pass from X. Harris (Q. Harris kick), 4:21.
Service – X. Harris 1 run (Q. Harris kick), 1:35.
Service – Norman 5 run (Q. Harris kick), 24.6.
Service – Norman 21 run (Q. Harris kick), 11:37.
Service – Norman 8 run (Q. Harris kick), 8:22.
Wasilla – 40 FG Reed, 4:56.
Service – Park 27 run (Blankenship pass from Mamilunian), 3:51.
RUSHING – Wasilla: Hongslo 6-17, Ward 1-11, Uti 4-11, Alexander 1-4, Lee 1-(-6). Service: Norman 18-144, Park 4-49, X. Harris 8-21, Wade 4-3, Atos 2-1, Williams 1-(-13).
PASSING – Wasilla: Millron 2-9-1—36, Hongslo 0-4-0—0. Service: X. Harris 13-21-0—221.
RECEIVING: Wasilla: Lee 1-32, Alexander 1-4. Service: Hogan 6-56, Norman 2-81, Holbert 2-0, L. Harris 1-37, Jackson 1-29, Blankenship 1-18.