Zach Meyer managed a half-hearted clap as he sat on a medical folding table watching from the sidelines. The Andale starting running back was happy his team had just opened the 2016 season with an 8-play, 60-yard scoring drive that sparked a 50-14 win over visiting Andover Central.
But the problem was Meyer, on the first play of his senior season, was injured returning the opening kickoff. The home crowd fell silent as Meyer was helped off the field, unable to put weight on his right leg. He watched the rest of the game standing on the sideline with the aid of crutches, his right knee wrapped in ice.
Coach Gary O’Hair said the preliminary diagnosis was a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which would end Meyer’s season.
“I’m broken-hearted,” he said. “He’s a great kid. He’s the heart and soul of this team.”
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The tragic start to Meyer’s season was also an opportunity for Andale to show off its depth. Seniors Tristen Dagenais and Dylan Horsch stepped into the spotlight and proved their worth, leading a relentless ground game that finished with 364 yards on 65 carries. Daganais scored three touchdowns and tallied 115 yards on 22 carries, while Horsch added a touchdown on six carries.
Quarterback Taylor Richter was also a threat on the ground, finishing with 103 yards on 15 carries.
Dagenais hurdled Andover Central linebacker Matt Lyman for an 11-yard run in the second quarter that highlighted Andale’s third scoring drive. He not only led his team in rushing, he also caught a pass and later threw for a touchdown to take advantage of an interception. Jace Stuever picked off Andover Central quarterback Cole Taylor on the final play of the first quarter, and Andale opened the second quarter by allowing Dagenais to roll right before finding Parker Bruce downfield for a 40-yard touchdown pass to take a 14-7 lead.
The rest of the night featured Andale’s ball carriers running behind a dominant offensive line. Though Andale looked out-sized from the beginning, the linemen proved stronger consistently.
“Our game plan going in was just to stay low and blow them up,” senior offensive lineman Grayson Clevenger said. “We know it’s going to be like that.”
Of the five Andale starting offensive linemen, four are under 200 pounds. Andover Central’s average weight on the defensive line is more than 250 pounds.
“It’ll be that way all year,” O’Hair said. “We are undersized but we’ve got some good kids and some good athletes with some speed. They’re just going to use their quickness. You’ve got to play harder than the guy on the other side of you when you’re outsized.”
With the game well in hand early in the second half, Andale got the opportunity to give a few younger players some valuable experience. Junior Ryan Berblinger notched seven carries for 50 yards – all in the second half, while junior Jeremy Jansen added a touchdown and 37 yards on 7 carries. Eleven ball carries eventually combined for the 364-yard game – a team average of more than 5 yards per carry.
“You always hope they can do that, but I didn’t expect it,” O’Hair said. “I’m just proud of how hard they played.”
The Andale pass rush kept Taylor scrambling for most of the night. The senior quarterback completed just 4 of 15 passes, and Andale picked him off twice.
Andover Central scored with 2:25 left in the first quarter to tie the game at 7 but then gave up 43 consecutive points before Dante Rodd scored his second touchdown with 4:28 left in the fourth quarter.
A – Dagenais 4 run (Bugner kick)
AC – Rodd 1 run (Schoonover kick)
A – Bruce 40 pass from Dagenais (Bugner kick)
A – Horsch 14 run (Spexarth from Richter)
A – Richter 4 run (Bugner kick)
A – Dagenais 4 run (Fairchild from Richter)
A – Dagenais 2 run (Bugner kick)
A – Jansen 5 run (kick failed)
AC – Rodd 1 run (Schoonover kick)
Rushing – Andover Central: Rodd 13-34, Schoonover 3-15, Tri 2-6, Taylor 4-8. Andale: Dagenais 22-115, Horsch 6-26, Richter 15-103, Simon 1-5, Brand 1-2, Rowland 1-0, Berblinger 7-50, Jansen 7-37, Baalman 3-17, McCormick 1-2, Allen 1-6.
Passing – Andover Central: Taylor 4-15 121. Andale: Richter 2-3 71, Dagenais 1-1 40.
Receiving – Andover Central: Anthemides 2-74, Lyman 1-22, Rodd 1-25. Andale: Dagenais 1-25, Cothran 1-46, Bruce 1-40.