SOUTHBRIDGE -- Ayer-Shirley's football season has not been one to write home about. Their misfortunes continued in their Monday matinee meeting with Southbridge.
The Panthers were down 29-0 at halftime following a breakout performance by the Pioneers' junior running back Emilio Torres. Torres racked up 178 yards on 22 carries on the ground for Southbridge.
The Pioneers got on the board first when Torres was able to get to the sidelines and find some open space for a 28-yard scamper to the end zone. The PAT attempt was no good, giving Southbridge a 6-0 lead with 9:17 remaining in the first quarter.
All it took was four plays for the Pioneers to find the end zone again. It was Torres again crossing the goaline from 16 yards out right side. Torres punched in the two-point conversion to extend the Pioneers' lead to 14-0 with 6:03 remaining in the first quarter.
The Pioneers would tack on two more touchdowns before the halftime whistle sounded. Quarterback Al Gilliard plunged forward for a sneak up the gut. Torres completed the two-point conversion, giving Southbridge a commanding 22-0 lead. Freshman quarterback Anthony Santos got some reps under center for the Pioneers, and he made the most of it. Santos connected with Torres down the sideline for a 48-yard bullet with just nine seconds left on the clock.
What happened next was a valiant comeback by the Panthers offense. Ayer-Shirley could have easily packed it in and mentally been already back on the bus to Washington Street. But Panthers' senior quarterback Zak Walker dialed up a 10-yard pass to Justis Wallace over the heart of the field to get Ayer-Shirley back into the game. Wallace also picked up two points on the conversion to make it 29-8.
The Panthers would get the ball back with 7:42 remaining in the final quarter of play, and they would make the most of it. Walker would connect with Wallace yet again, this time for 15-yards to make the score 29-16.
Ayer-Shirley safety Dre Carmon made a spectacular interception to get the ball back for the Panthers. The Pioneers had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty go against them, giving the Panthers the ball again at the Southbridge nine-yard line.
Southbridge's defense stayed strong. No late-game Walker heroics would happen, but a gutsy performance for Ayer-Shirley nevertheless. The Pioneers bled the clock the rest of the way, dropping Ayer-Shirley to 1-9 on the season.
The Panthers are in action at home on Thanksgiving morning at 10 a.m. against neighboring Littleton. Wallace also chipped in an interception for the Panthers on defense in the loss.