TOPEKA — Andover running back Ben Croitoru walked toward the locker room Saturday, feeling the pain of a fourth-quarter charge that came up short.
"It finally clicked," Croitoru said. "I wish we could have done it the whole game."
Instead, the Trojans discovered that three days was a short time to adjust for the loss of a three-year leader at quarterback. With senior Aaron Hansen on the sidelines in a knee brace, Andover lost to defending Class 4A champion Topeka Hayden 14-7 in a second-round playoff game.
Hayden (7-4) will travel to Andale next weekend for a rematch of last year's semifinal, which the Wildcats won 20-12 en route to their title. Andover finished 9-2, losing for the first time since its season opener at Buhler.
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"We had our chances," Andover coach Mike Lee said. "We didn't play very well offensively until the fourth quarter and it kind of wore our defense down."
Junior Jordan Jones replaced Hansen, who guided Andover's offense to an average of 39.3 points in 10 games before injuring his right knee in Tuesday's win over Andover Central. The Trojans were limited to 106 yards and no points in the first three quarters before coming to life with their season on the line.
"Hayden played well on defense," Lee said. "They scouted us well and knew what we wanted to do. They did a good job of taking it away."
Jones finished 6 of 16 passing for 115 yards with one interception. Frequently shooting gaps with its linebackers, Hayden held Andover to 36 rushing yards while building a 14-0 lead after three quarters.
"They just did a good job of bottling up the middle and stopping the run," Croitoru said. "It was a tough game and they did their part."
Meanwhile, Hayden's no-frills, double-wing offense took a toll on the Trojans. Hayden had a 16-play drive in the opening quarter that didn't yield points, but the Wildcats came back with a nine-play, 61-yard march in the second quarter for the lone score before halftime.
Garrett Nicol, who finished with 20 carries for 91 yards, and Alec Steuber (18 for 75) pounded the middle on the touchdown drive. Steuber capped it with a 13-yard run, breaking away from an Andover defender near the line of scrimmage.
"They're very patient," Lee said. "They've got a lot of faith in their system and they just keep pounding on you.
Hayden added a 10-play, 62-yard drive for a 14-0 lead in the third quarterback. Quarterback Grant Arnold and receiver Sean Morrow bookended the drive with two pass completions, the second a 12-yarder for a touchdown.
Croitoru sliced the deficit in half five minutes into the third quarter. As Hayden blitzed two linebackers up the middle, the junior took a toss sweep around the right side 27 yards for a touchdown.
Andover got the ball back with 4:29 remaining after a 51-yard punt by Hayden's Shanan Engroff. Croitoru and Grant Ralston combined for 34 yards on four running plays. Then Jones flipped a pass to tight end Alex Goldberg, who turned it into a 29-yard gain. But the drive stalled when Casey Bohannon batted away Jones' passes on third and fourth downs.
"I thought Jordan did a good job," Lee said. "He came out and competed. We just needed to get rolling sooner."
Andover (9-2) 0 0 0 7 -- 7 Topeka Hayden (7-4) 0 7 7 0 -- 14
TH—Steuber 13 run (Engroff kick)
TH—Morrow 12 pass from Arnold (Engroff kick)
A—Croitoru 27 run (Tyler kick)
Rushing—Andover, Croitoru 18-76, Ralston 1-11, Windholz 4-8, Gumeringer 3-7, Jones 2-3. Hayden, Nicol 20-91, Steuber 18-75, Engroff 10-54, Bohannon 3-8, Arnold 4-(-1) .
Passing—Andover, Jones 6-16-115-1. Hayden, Arnold 6-8-35-0.
Receiving—Andover, Goldberg 2-39, Tyler 1-32, Malone 1-28, Croitoru 2-16. Hayden, Morrow 3-26, Bohannon 1-5, Engroff 1-3, McGivern 1-1.