NORWALK -- Six games into the season, Troy Thomas finally had a reason to smile. After five games of failing to play "Servite football," the Friars did just that Friday in their Trinity League opener against Orange Lutheran.
The result ESPNLA's top-ranked team scoring a 21-8 victory over the eighth-ranked Lancers at Cerritos College.
Servite (5-1, 1-0), which has won at least a share of six consecutive league titles, defeated Lutheran (5-1, 0-1) for the seventh consecutive season. All eyes are on the Friars, who have won the last two Pac-5 championships. This was their 30th victory in 32 games, but the first since losing two weeks ago in Las Vegas to Bishop Gorman, 31-28, on a last-minute field goal.
"This is a huge win," Thomas, the Servite coach, said. "Any win is huge in this league. OLu is a very talented team watching them on film. They do a lot of great things. To get this one is huge for us, especially after last week. We didn't feel like we played Servite football. Tonight we played Servite football."
Cody Pittman found wide-open Ainslie Johnson for 53- and 82-yard touchdowns, and a junior running back who was on the scout team two weeks ago seemed to galvanize his place in the lineup. Mana Pauu rushed 16 times for 77 yards against a tough Lutheran defense, including a four-yard score with three seconds left in the first half that gave Servite a 7-2 lead.
But the star of the night was the Servite defense led by Butch Pauu, who had an interception as well as several commanding tackles. The Friars were more physical than they had been all season. They shut out the Lutheran offense until the final minute, when the Lancers drove 98 yards and scored on a 14-yard pass from Conner Sullivan to Brady Roelofs with 25 seconds remaining.
"That's the way we can play defense," Thomas said afterward. "Finally. Finally!"
Said Pauu: "Coach Thomas has called us out throughout the week saying we weren't a a very physical team. When people think of Servite football, they think of a physical team."
The touchdown at the end of the first half paved the way for a dominant second half. Servite scored on its opening possession on the 53-yard pass to Johnson to seize control of the game. They added the 82-yarder -- with Johnson streaking down the left sideline -- with 10:15 left.
"They had the two big plays in the second half, faking the bubble screen, and we bit on it -- we didn't play those very well -- and those two plays were the difference in the game," said Jim Kunau, Lutheran's coach. "They played extremely well, they played real smart, real sound, made few mistakes. They were the better team tonight.
"Give them a lot of credit. They played great defense overall. Butch Pauu is a tremendous player. ... He's fun to watch unless you're on the opposite sideline."
The night didn't start so well for Servite. On its first possession, the ball was snapped over Pittman's head and went out the back of the end zone for a safety. But the defense was nails, and the offense supplied the hammer.
"We hadn't really been playing up to the Servite standard," said Johnson, who caught four passes for 157 yards. "But tonight, we played Servite football."
Pittman completed 15 of 21 passes for 276 yards, and Manu Pauu -- Butch's cousin -- gained some tough yards.
"Even if we had lost, if they play like that, I'm good with it," Thomas said of his team. "They played with fire."