AYER -- With a number of young players in skill positions, the Ayer-Shirley football team is still learning on the job. Their spread offense is designed to allow their skills players to make plays in space and allow big plays to happen. This was not the case on Friday night at Harold Norton Memorial Field. The Panthers could not get any momentum going on offense. Uxbridge controlled the clock with a solid running game and timely passes en route to a 14-8 victory.
The statistics tell the tale of this contest as all the numbers favored the Spartans. Uxbridge dominated time of possession (29:58 to 14:02), rushing yards (250 to 103) and passing yards (83 to 43), as the Ayer-Shirley offense had four three-and-outs and two turnovers in the game.
"We made a lot of young mistakes and never found a groove offensively," said Panthers coach Jay Rivers. "I thought our defense actually played pretty well considering they were on the field for most of the night. For as ugly a game that we played, we still had a chance to come away with a win, but we just couldn't convert."
Uxbridge went to their bag of tricks on the game's opening possession. On the game's first play, Mitchell Page connected with Jared Mansfield for a 38-yard gain on a halfback pass to put the ball at the Ayer-Shirley 18-yard line. After a loss of four, Brad Couture broke off a 21-yard run to set up first-and-goal at the one. From there, Jake Taparasky did the honors, going in for the touchdown on a
After a three-and-out on their first possession, the Panthers started to move the ball on their second. Starting at their own 31, Ayer-Shirley converted a fourth-and-five on a 28-yard completion from Zak Walker to Ryan Richard to put the ball on the Uxbridge 46. On the ensuing third down, the Spartans defense came up with a big play, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Jeff Graverson to end the threat.
With the ball on their own 42, Uxbridge moved down the field methodically. Couture was the workhorse, carrying three times for 30 yards, including a seven-yard run on third-and-six that set up first-and-goal from the 10. The Panthers defense held, forcing a fourth-down pass attempt that was caught, but out of bounds, forcing a turnover on downs.
The momentum of the stop carried over to the Ayer-Shirley offense as they put together their lone scoring drive of the night. Three runs by Leon Wilson (eight carries for 88 yards) were good for 10 yards and moved the ball out of the shadow of the end zone. Wilson got the call again and broke loose, running down the right sideline before cutting to the middle of the field and being brought down at the one following an 80-yard run. Walker closed things out, going in from a yard out for a touchdown. Richard hauled in a Walker pass for the two-point conversion to give the Panthers an 8-6 lead.
Twice in the last five minutes of the half, the Spartans drove inside the Ayer-Shirley 25 and twice they were turned away by Josh Elysee. The freshman defensive back picked up two passes, the second of which came in the closing seconds. The Panthers held a two-point edge heading into the intermission.
Ayer-Shirley came up with a big play early in the third quarter as Wilson recovered a fumbled punt, but the offense couldn't capitalize, turning the ball over on downs. On the ensuing possession, Uxbridge put together the eventual game-winning drive.
Starting at their own 33, the Spartans went 67 yards on 13 plays, keyed by the running of Jared Stewart (23 yards) and Joe Fitzgerald (14) yards. After covering the first 55 yards on the ground, Uxbridge went to the air for the last 12, as Taparasky hit Stewart on a screen pass for a touchdown. Fitzgerald added the two-point conversion to make it 14-8 late in the third quarter.
The next three possessions for the Panthers went punt, interception, punt, and it appeared the Spartans were going to ice the game as they moved within three yards of paydirt with under two minutes to play. But Ayer-Shirley came up with another big stop as Tyler Mayo recovered a fumble to set one last chance. However, it was too little, too late, as four straight incompletions led to a turnover on downs and Uxbridge ran out the clock to claim the win.
"I thought we showed some inexperience with all of the misdirection plays that were run against us and ended up out of position a couple of times," said Rivers. "We will learn from this and the goal this week is to try to fix those mistakes and get ready for Friday night."
Fitzgerald led all rushers for the Spartans, with 100 yards on 13 carries. Couture added 74 yards on 16 rushes, while Stewart finished with 73 yards on 10 runs.