LUNENBURG -- Football is a contact sport and in most instances, especially in high school, games come down to which team controls the line of scrimmage. On Saturday afternoon, the Ayer-Shirley football team could not control the play in the trenches and it proved to be the difference. Lunenburg was more physical during play (331 to 43 advantage in rushing yards) and after the play (five personal foul penalties) in running over the Panthers for a 21-8 victory.
"I thought we just got beat physically throughout today and that was the difference," said Ayer-Shirley coach Jay Rivers. "We also continued to make a lot of the same mistakes that have cost us early on this season and you just can't do that against a good team. Right now, we are a little banged up and one injury leads to a six or seven player shuffle which is tough, but we just flat got beat."
A 36-yard return by Alex Walker on the opening kickoff set up the Panthers just 44 yards from the end zone and a personal foul penalty moved them to the 32 less than a minute into the game. However, Ayer-Shirley fumbled away a shot to get on the board first when on fourth-and-one Luke McDonald came away with the loose ball for the Blue Knights to end the threat.
Late in the first quarter, the Blue Knights put together the game's first scoring drive. A 12-play, 57-yard march was highlighted by power running and option play. Quarterback Greg Abare (19 rushes, 136 yards, TD) carried three times for 23 yards while
The Panthers answered right back on the ensuing drive, using their air attack and a timely penalty to grab the lead. On second-and-nine from their own 34, Zak Walker connected with Justis Wallace for a 36-yard gain down to the Blue Knights 30. Three runs were good for eight yards setting up fourth-and-two, but a pass attempt fell incomplete. A defensive holding penalty was called, keeping the drive alive and three plays later, Walker hit Daniel Goldstein for a 17-yard touchdown strike. Wallace hauled in a Walker pass for the two-point conversion giving Ayer-Shirley an 8-7 advantage.
It took little time for Lunenburg to answer as they went back to the ground to regain control. A nine play, 67-yard drive was done all via the run, as Wagner picked up 25 yards and Abare went for 14, including the final yard on a quarterback sneak. The conversion rush failed, but the Blue Knights took a 13-8 lead into the locker rooms.
When second half play began, Lunenburg embarked on a nearly eight minute long scoring drive that was keyed by a running game that the Panthers had no answers for all day. The drive started at the 22, but covered 93 yards thanks to another personal foul penalty, on 15 plays and was led by Abare (57 yards) and Wagner. During the march, the Blue Knights faced just two third downs which they converted easily and Wagner capped it off by going in from a yard out. Abare completed his only pass of the day to Bobby Colgate for the two-point conversion as it was now 21-8.
On their next three drives, Ayer-Shirley saw scoring opportunities come up short. A 13-yard pass by Walker on fourth down to Ryan Richard was a yard short of a first down, leading to a turnover on downs. The Panthers then drove to the eight and seven yard lines of Lunenburg on the next two drives only to see passes in the end zone intercepted to end both drives. Abare ran out the clock, taking a knee on the final play to close out the win for the Blue Knights who improved to 2-2 on the season.
"Right now, our defense is struggling to get off the field and we just seem to have issues coming up with a big play," said Rivers, whose team fell to 1-3 on the year. "Offensively, some things are improving, but we just keep making young mistakes and until we limit those, we aren't going to improve."
Walker finished the day 14 of 23 passing for 147 yards and a TD. Wallace led the receiving corps with six catches for 83 yards while Goldstein added five catches for 33 yards and a score.