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UPLAND — Villa Park’s football team signaled its status as a contender to watch.

The Spartans used their ground attack and timely defensive stops in the fourth quarter to upset host Upland 35-23 on Thursday to improve to 3-0.

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Villa Park, ranked 14th in Orange County, also excelled in special teams as it defeated the Scots (2-1), ranked 24th in the state by Calpreps and third in the Inland Empire behind Corona Centennial and Rancho Cucamonga.

“We were definitely the underdogs coming in rankings-wise but none of that matters,” said Villa Park running back Carter Christie, who rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. “We came out knowing they were going to be a great team and we had a great week of practice and we were able to do our jobs, and execute.

“We have a lot of talent, a lot of potential that we haven’t unlocked yet,” Christie added. “We just need to keep grinding and I think we can be a fantastic team.”

Villa Park, ranked 51st in the state, executed its ground attack in the final six minutes to close out the victory.

After cornerback Jack Dragovich made a tackle for loss on a fourth-down attempt by Upland, the Spartans shifted to their “Strong” formation featuring Christie, Dominic Ancich and Ethan Fraser as running backs and Diego Perez-Saucedo and Lucas Simone as tight ends.

Villa Park chewed up about 5 1/2 minutes in driving 62 yards — all on running plays — for an 8-yard TD run by Christie to take a 35-23 lead.

The 2-point conversion failed but the Spartans produced another fourth-down stop against QB Noah Sandoval, who passed for 362 yards and three scores.

The Spartans used the “Strong” formation to run out the final 3 1/2 minutes to beat Upland for the second time in the past three seasons.

“Our big image at Villa Park (is) we want teams to know that we run the power,” Villa Park coach Dusan Ancich said. “We want to be known as a physical team. … Upland has some impressive looking guys so I was proud of our guys to be able to bang with some big boys.”

Christie rushed for 87 of the Spartans’ 184 yards behind a line featuring Henry Wonderlick, Brian Del Rio, Tucker Fuchs, Damian Lara, Ethan Sickles and Kealiiwai Gonzalez.

Villa Park started fast, scoring 1:10 into the first quarter on a 15-yard run by Christie.

The senior burst into the end zone one play after linebacker Ben Duckworth recovered a fumble on Upland’s second play from scrimmage. On the first play, Simone recorded a tackle for a loss to spark the Spartans’ fast start.

Dominic Ancich, the nephew of coach Dusan Ancich, ran in the 2-point conversion to make it 8-0.

Villa Park scored on its next three possessions to open a 29-17 lead at halftime.

Quarterback Nate Lewis capped a 56-yard scoring drive with a 1-yard TD run late in the first quarter and Dominic Ancich added a 6-yard TD run with 8:26 left in the second quarter.

Villa Park opened a 29-10 lead late in the second quarter as Lewis lofted a short pass over the middle to Christie, who blazed through the secondary for a 78-yard touchdown reception.

Christie popped free after the Spartans faked a draw play. He finished with two catches for 103 yards

But Upland showed plenty of fight with its passing attack and cut the Spartan lead to 29-23 going into the fourth.

Kicker Emiliano Salazar paced Villa Park’s special team with six touchbacks and a punt that pinned Upland at its 1. That ensuing possession ended with the fourth-down stop with just under 10 minutes left in the fourth.

Next week, Villa Park takes its bye before playing host to Eastlake of Chula Vista on Sept. 14. Eastlake entered Week 2 with an 0-2 record, including a 28-9 loss to Capistrano Valley.

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