AYER -- Despite sloppy weather conditions, the Ayer-Shirley Panthers (1-6, 0-2 Mid Wach D) played host to the West Boylston Lions (7-0, 3-0 Mid-Wach D) on homecoming night. The driving rain and slop played right into the ground-and-pound style that the visiting Lions are known for.
West Boylston romped past the Panthers by a final score of 26-6. Ayer-Shirley's 1-6 record is not indicative of their talent and hard work, according to first-year head coach Justin Rivers.
"Our record indicates we are 1-6, but we don't play like we are a 1-6 team," said Rivers. Our kids don't quit. They play hard all night long. We were playing five freshman tonight."
Senior fullback Mike Pace rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries, and three touchdowns in the win. Pace unofficially has broke the 1,000-yard barrier this season with his performance Friday night.
West Boylston struck first on a 45-yard gallop by Pace with 4:17 remaining in the first quarter. Pace took off from the Ayer-Shirley 45-yard line behind a spectacular block by senior right guard Matt Loureiro.
The Panthers were unable to muster anything on their final drive of the first quarter and were forced to punt. The turnover-on-downs by the Panthers put the Lions in prime field position at the Ayer-Shirley 29-yard line. Junior Lions running back Ben Tasker broke through a would-be Panther tackler for a gain of 13 yards, setting up a 16-yard touchdown by Devin Desaultels. Desaultels broke free
Ayer-Shirley would take over on their own 17-yard line. Panthers quarterback Zak Walker would be dropped for a seven-yard loss by Lions' defensive end Bryan Lyndsay, setting up a third-and-17 from their own 10-yard line. The Panthers were unable to establish good field position against the strong West Boylston defense. "Field position killed us tonight. We just couldn't get out of our own way on offense." said Rivers.
On the next set of downs, Lions quarterback Steven Gould came up short on a pass intended for Brian Hayes, and it was intercepted by the Panthers' freshman safety Daniel Goldstein at the 29-yard line with less than 6:00 left to go before halftime.
The Lions hammered home another touchdown before the second quarter came to a close. Pace crashed forward from the 2-yard line up the middle, extending the Lions' lead to 20-0.
Ayer-Shirley came out of halftime looking to claw their way back in the game. Kick-returner/wide receiver Justis Wallace ran back the opening kick for 62 yards. Wallace dropped the ball initially, but recovered nicely, staying in his lane off the right side. Wallace would make a 19-yard acrobatic reception in the left corner of the end zone with 10:35 left in the third quarter from Walker, cutting the Lions' lead to 14 at 20-6.
The Panthers' success scoring was short lived, as the Lions tacked on another touchdown for good measure. Pace charged his way into the end zone from the 1-yard-line to put the Lions up 26-6 with 1:39 left in the third quarter.
Defensively the Panthers' did a decent job limiting the Lions to 26 points. Defenses have been surrendering an average of 36.8 points per game to West Boylston. Rivers feels that his team did a solid job containing the Lions' potent offense.
"I was very happy about how we played the run game. I am happy with the effort they put forth, said Rivers. "The attitude has been positive all along. We have a small senior class, but they are a great group of kids."
Next up on the slate for the Panthers is Maynard. The Tigers fell on the road last week to Narragansett, 12-6, dropping to 3-4 overall, and 0-2 in the Mid-Wach D. Ayer-Shirley will travel up Route 117 to face Maynard tonight at 7 p.m.