ANDOVER – Andover played a dominant first half and looked to be cruising, but Valley Center battled back and made the road to victory a little bumpy before the Trojans held on for a 35-27 victory Friday night.
The outcome was only mildly in doubt, thanks to the workhorse effort of Andover junior running back Max Middleton. He might stand just 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, but his shoulders were broad enough to carry the ball 35 times for 263 yards and three touchdowns.
That the Trojans had to withstand a stubborn Hornets team might not be a great look – especially with archrival Andover Central looming next week.
"Valley Center’s a good team, and they did some good things, and they do what they do very well," Andover coach Ken Dusenbury said afterward. "Their quarterback (senior Kaleb Harden) throws the ball very well (and) they have a very good scheme."
"They’re tough, and they weren’t going away."
Dusenbury said Andover had to battle to avoid the same fate as Andover Central, which lost 14-12 last week at Valley Center.
"We’ve got to clean some things up," Dusenbury said. "We addressed that with our kids in the locker room, and we’ll get back to work on it Sunday."
Middleton toted most of the load, but he had some help in the ground game. Senior Ashton Ngo gained 91 yards in six carries – 71 of those on a scoring burst on the second play of the game.
Ngo said his line gave him a wide berth to dart through and outrun the Hornets defenders.
"Our line blocked their tails off," he said. "There’s a little alley on the back side that I saw, and I took it."
On the rare plays when Middleton or Ngo weren’t carrying the ball, senior fullback Josh Sparks pitched in with 28 yards on nine carries.
With the rivalry game approaching, senior Isaiah Maikori said there is plenty of work to be done – especially with the margin being as narrow as it was.
"We need to stay disciplined in the second half and finish games out when he have a chance," he said, "instead of falling apart. It shouldn’t have even been that close. We just need to finish out the game when we should have."
"But we fought back in the second half from adversity and found a way to win."
Of course, it helps to have a back that can carry 35 times in a game.
"Max runs super hard, and we are all super proud and thankful to have him with the way he runs," Maikori said. "He’s just an animal."
Maikori was astonished at Middleton’s and Ngo’s yardage.
"That’s a testament to our offensive line," he said, "putting them in position to be successful."
At the half, Valley Center had just 48 passing yards and minus-16 on the ground.
"Going into halftime, we might have had a little too much confidence," Middleton said. "They came out and just punched us in the mouth.
"I thought it was going to be a shutout, but we’ve got a lot to learn from this, a lot to work on."
Valley Center’s comeback attempt was fueled by senior Kaleb Harden’s 108 second-half passing yards, and the Hornets’ Kade Wilson returned a kickoff 85 yards that cut the deficit to 35-20 right after Ngo’s second touchdown of the game, a 6-yard run, which sent some of the Trojans fans heading to the exit.
But Harden wasn’t finished, hitting Gabe Phillips for a 19-yard touchdown, Phillips’ second score of the night.
Andover 35, Valley Center 27
Valley Center - 0;0;13;14 – 27
Andover - 6;15;0;14 – 35
A – Ngo 71 run (kick failed)
A – Middleton 3 run (Albright pass from Strausz)
A – Middleton 14 run (Champlin kick)
VC – G. Phillips 1 pass from Harden (Sharp kick)
VC – Stacy 20 pass from Harden (run failed)
A – Middleton 39 run (Champlin kick)
A – Ngo 6 run (Champlin kick)
VC – Wilson 85 kickoff return (Sharp kick)
VC – G. Phillips 19 pass from Harden (Sharp kick)
RUSHING – Valley Center: D. Phillips 21-43, Harden 6-(-27); TOTAL - 27-16. Andover: Middleton 35-263, Ngo 6-91, Sparks 9-28, Strausz 5-4; TOTAL - 55-386
PASSING – Valley Center: Harden 14-29-1-156. Andover: Strausz 5-12-3-67.
RECEIVING – Valley Center: G. Phillips 5-51, Stacy 4-44, Warner 2-37, Wilson 3-24. Andover: Maikori 2-13, Miller 1-33, Klein 1-13, Albright 1-8.