With the Cook Inlet Conference football game at South scoreless at halftime early Saturday evening, Service High coach Jason Caldarera challenged his team: "Who's going to be the guy who breaks this open?"
Xavier Harris soon furnished the answer, and the springboard to Service's 28-0 victory in the conference opener between rivals.
Harris returned a punt 69 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, caught a 31-yard touchdown pass from Jason Villanueva-Kaeo in the fourth quarter and generated a 67-yard rushing gain to set up Zhjandon Jackson's 1-yard scoring run.
Harris, a senior, racked 236 yards total offense — he rushed 13 times for 128 yards, caught two passes for 57 yards and completed a 51-yard pass. His two punt returns — besides his return for a touchdown, he also had an 18-yard return — and his 19-yard kickoff return gave him 343 all-purpose yards.
"He's a special player," Caldarera said.
Harris' punt return broke open a game that was scoreless, in part, because each team was its own worst enemy.
Both teams committed penalties that were particularly untimely. Both teams dropped passes. An apparent interception return for a touchdown by South's Beck Stokes in the first half was called back because of a personal-foul penalty. An apparent 41-yard touchdown run by Harris in the first half was nullified by a holding penalty.
Service limited South to just 45 yards total offense on 23 first-half plays. But Service's offense, which generated 213 yards total offense in the first half, could not cash in.
"It was mostly self-inflicted," said Service middle linebacker Hunter Fanning, who occasionally subs in at running back. "The talent is there, the scheme is there. We just have to execute."
Meanwhile, South's most effective weapon was punter Noah Winsor, whose six first-half punts averaged 37.6 yards. That included a 51-yarder and a 43-yarder, and two punts that each pinned Service at its 6-yard line.
Harris finally cracked the stalemate when he caught Winsor's 36-yard punt, bolted to his right and danced down the sidelines, avoiding an attempted shoestring tackle on his journey.
"I looked for an opening and took off, and my teammates did a great job blocking," Harris said. "They just created a wall and all I had to do was break one tackle."
Service evened its overall record at 2-2 and moved to 1-0 in conference heading into a game Friday at defending state champion East.
South, which has managed just one offensive touchdown this season, fell to 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the CIC, and Saturday faces a strong Bartlett team.
The Cougars gave Harris some help on offense. Ben Faulker rushed nine times for 68 yards and a touchdown, and Jacob Wade turned 12 carries into 60 yards.
On defense, Service never permitted the Wolverines access to the red zone — the deepest South got into Service territory was the 23.
"Defense, that's in your heart, it starts in your heart," said Fanning, the Service linebacker. "We came out aggressive, and we love to play against those guys."
Service 0 0 7 21 28
South 0 0 0 0 0
Service — Harris 69 punt return (Cuellar kick), 4:20.
Service — Harris 31 pass from Villanueva-Kaeo (Cuellar kick), 8:34.
Service — Jackson 1 run (Cuellar kick), 2:16.
Service — Faulkner 33 run (Cuellar kick), :08
RUSHING — Service: Harris 13-128, Faulkner 9-68, Wade 12-60, Fanning 2-10, Team 1(-17). South: Kimmins 13-33, Stokes 13-19, Lincoln 3-18, Bentz 8-13, Phonsavang 2-6, Team 2 (-16).
PASSING — Service: Villanueva-Kaeo 4-14-1–82, Harris 1-3-0–51, Helgeson 0-1-0–0. South: Bentz 11-20-2–103.
RECEIVING — Service: Harris 2-57, Guevarra 2-25, Helgeson 1-51. South: Stokes 4-31, Phonsavang 3-15, Cason 2-51, Houghton 1-6, Stokes 1-1.