Valley Center staked its claim to the third seed in the Class 5A playoffs, outscoring Andover 36-6 in the second half Friday night for a 57-33 AV-CTL II victory.
Valley Center (7-1) will play host to Newton (1-7) in a first-round game next Friday. Andover (5-3) plays host to Eisenhower in another first-round game.
Valley Center senior receiver Keyon Saunders hauled in four scoring passes from quarterback Wyatt Lange and returned a kickoff 90 yards for the Hornets (7-1).
Saunders said he’d never had a night like this one.
“No, never,” he said. “I’ve had good nights, but this is a great night – a great night for me, but an even better night for us as a team.
“I knew it was just a matter of us showing up and playing. If we show up and play, we can play with anybody.”
He said he knew Valley Center could erase the halftime deficit.
“They weren’t down, but they weren’t energized,” he said. “I just told them, ‘Guys, we’re going to come out and win this in the second half.’ And we just put it on all cylinders, and it just clicked.”
Playing without leading rusher Caleb Rains, Valley Center might have been hard-pressed on offense.
But that’s when Saunders took most of the load on his shoulders, catching nine passes for 253 yards, not to mention the 90-yard kickoff return.
“Keyon had a great game,” quarterback Wyatt Lange said. “I mean, five touchdowns, that’s crazy.”
Afterward, Hornets coach Caleb Smith could only marvel at Saunders’ performance.
“He played unbelievable in all phases, special teams, offense, defense,” Smith said. “He had a great game for us. Keyon’s ability opened up those other guys to make plays, and our O-line really came alive that second half, too. That’s something people don’t realize.”
It was almost as if Valley Center was toying with Andover, as the Hornets forced the Trojans to pick their poison.
“Whenever they’d move a guy out there (to cover the receivers), it opened up our run game,” Smith said. “Our offensive coach did a good job of picking whatever they’d give us.”
And even without Rains, senior Jesse Navarrete managed 67 rushing yards and a touchdown, and Josh Roeser used his 6-0, 200-pound frame to bull in for a 3-yard score.
Smith said Rains will be back for the Newton game.
“We’ll have that 1-2 punch again,” he said. “We have two guys we can put in there (at running back) and feel confident.”
Andover (5-3) hung tough through the first half and even held a 27-21 lead at the break. But the Hornets’ defense stiffened in the second half, forcing a fumble and intercepting Oberg twice.
“We struggled a little early, but made some adjustments at halftime,” Hornets coach Caleb Smith said.
Apparently, those were the right ones, as Valley Center outscored Andover by 30 points after the break.
Smith said Valley Center was just trying to take what Andover would allow, and that turned out to be gaining the majority through the air.
He said the 7-1 mark was a culmination of previous years’ efforts.
“It’s been the work of a lot of guys, some of whom aren’t with us anymore,” he said. “A lot of people have put in a lot of time to make it happen.”
Meanwhile, the Trojans were matching pass for pass in the first half, and quarterback Chase Oberg managed 360 yards through the air. His favorite targets were junior Ben Smith (five catches, 143 yards) and senior Evan Bell (11 catches, 109 yards).
Andover (5-3) tried to rally late, but the Hornets’ Don Boone intercepted Oberg with 5:59 to play. Valley Center then drove into Andover territory, shrugging off an unnecessary roughness penalty, hitting Saunders from 23 yards out for a 50-33 lead with 4:26 to play.
The Trojans kept trying to get back in late but turned the ball over on downs, and a penalty allowed Valley Center to begin the drive at the Andover 14. Jesse Navarrete scored from 3 yards out with 2:28 to play, and Aaron Coash converted for Valley Center’s final points.
A – Smith 42 pass from Oberg (Hammar kick)
VC – Saunders 90 kickoff return (kick failed)
VC – Saunders 70 pass from Lange (Saunders pass from Lange)
A – E. Bell 51 pass from Oberg (kick blocked)
A – E. Bell 20 pass from Oberg (Hammar kick)
A – Brown 38 pass from Oberg (Hammar kick)
VC – Lange 1 run (Coash kick)
VC – Saunders 16 pass from Lange (Coash kick)
VC – Saunders 45 pass from Lange (Lange run)
A – Smith 70 pass from Oberg (kick blocked)
VC – Roeser 3 run (Coash kick)
VC – Saunders 23 pass from Lange (Coash kick)
VC – Navarrete 3 run (Coash kick)
RUSHING – Valley Center: Navarrete 17-67, Lange 24-57, Roeser 2-3. Andover: Bundy 18-77, Oberg 4-8.
PASSING – Valley Center: Lange 15-19-1-329. Andover: Oberg 23-42-2-360.
RECEIVING – Valley Center: Saunders 9-253, Pearson 2-19, Terwilliger 2-15, Cross 1-29, T. Brown 1-13. Andover: E. Bell 11-109, Smith 5-143, M. Bell 4-23, J. Brown 2-44, Bundy 1-41.