ANDOVER — The fast start he got off to on Thursday night was somewhat bittersweet for Andover running back Ben Croitoru.
Headed for a career night after two carries, Croitoru propelled Andover's 56-0 win over Circle. Since the blowout started early, though, Croitoru got just eight rushes. They produced 190 yards, though, and Croitoru had to smile when thinking about what could have been.
"I don't really know," Croitoru said when asked to predict a projected total for a full night's work. "If (Coach Mike Lee) pulls me out, he pulls me out. I understand why. I'd love to stay in and keep playing, but I just do what I do when I'm out there and keep playing hard."
Andover won Class 4A-District 11 and meets Andover Central in the first round of the playoffs Tuesday. Circle needed a win to advance and did not reach the postseason.
The Trojans stopped Circle on three plays during the game's first series, and Croitoru sprinted 58 yards for a touchdown on Andover's first play.
Croitoru's next carry wouldn't come for a while, thanks to an interception returned for a touchdown by teammate Alex Tyler to make it 14-0. But Croitoru made the next carry count, going 49 yards for another score, Andover's third during a 28-point first quarter.
The 170-pound junior almost had another touchdown on his third carry, gaining 24 yards before being tripped up at Circle's 21-yard line.
"We're not very big, but we have some athletic guys," Lee said. "Ben's athletic. That's what we try to do on both sides of the ball — play to our strength, and our strength is our athleticism."
Lee said Andover relied on the run more early because Circle attempted to eliminate the Trojans' passing attack, led by senior quarterback Aaron Hansen. Lee's adjustments worked even when Croitoru was out of the game, as Andover accumulated 409 rushing yards.
"That's kind of how the offense works," Lee said. "People are going to say they're going to take this away and we have to go to a Plan B."
Andover's defense was just as strong, holding Circle to 99 total yards and intercepting quarterbacks Jake Frazier and Alex Gardiner a total of three times. The Trojans, whose loss came in blowout fashion to Buhler in the season opener, are confident heading into a postseason matchup with their crosstown rivals.
"It's way better for our focus and mentality," Croitoru said of entering the playoffs with a win. "We're just going to take it one step at a time and focus on us and we're glad to come off a win."
Circle (4-5, 1-2) 0 0 0 0 — 0 Andover (8-1,3-0) 28 21 7 0 — 56
A—Croitoru 58 run (Tyler kick)
A—Tyler 52 interception return (Tyler kick)
A—Croitoru 49 run (Tyler kick)
A—Nye 6 run (Tyler kick)
A—Gumeringer 1 run (Tyler kick)
A—Gumeringer 1 run (Tyler kick)
A—Concello 15 run (Tyler kick)
A—Chambers 4 run (Scharping kick)
Rushing—Circle, Gardiner 13-32, Kinder 6-16, Hill 6-5, St. Peter 4-5, LaMunyon 1-4, Mould 1-2, Frazier 1-(-8), Phillips 1-(-22). Andover, Croitoru 8-190, Ogden 11-61, Chambers 4-54, Gumeringer 6-37, Concello 2-21, Ralston 1-15, Harsh 1-12, Nye 1-6, Jones 1-6, Ray 1-4, White 3-3, Hansen 1-0.
Passing—Circle, Frazier 4-11-10-2, Gardiner 5-12-55-0. Andover, Hansen 1-2-22-0, Jones 1-1-19-0.
Receiving—Circle, Lowmaster 3-20, Mould 2-14, Tracy 2-10, Nicholas 1-23, Phillips 1-(-2). Andover, Windholz 1-22, Chambers 1-19.