AYER/SHIRLEY -- Ayer-Shirley's misfortunes continued Thanksgiving morning as they fell to the playoff-bound Littleton Tigers 36-12.
Seniors, Mike Montoya, Luke Snyder, Justis Wallace and Nick Guthiel all suited up for Ayer-Shirley for the final time Thursday morning. Panthers' quarterback Zak Walker turned in a two-touchdown performance. Walker completed 13-of-24 passes for 128-yards with a rushing touchdown and one through the air with an interception.
Ayer-Shirley had won the last two meetings with Littleton coming into Thursday morning. The Panthers still own a 9-7 all-time lead in the rivalry. Ayer-Shirley junior Ryan Richard was named the Panthers' team MVP with five catches for 75 yards in the loss.
"I just wanted to make it the best game for the four seniors and end the season on a bang," said Richard. " I can't wait to come back next year."
Littleton drew first blood on a quarterback 2-yard draw taken left side by senior quarterback Alex McLaughlin to give the Tigers the early 7-0 lead with 5:13 left in the first quarter. McLaughlin's touchdown capped off a 68-yard drive for head coach Mike Lynn's Tigers. Littleton accumulated 303 yards of total offense in the win.
The Panthers were inspired to make a game of it on their next drive. Walker led the Panthers down the field after taking over at their own 38-yard line.
Walker connected with his go-to wide receiver Wallace for an 8-yard touchdown reception in the left corner of the end
Ayer-Shirley fans were desperately hoping that the Panthers were going to hang tough with a strong Littleton team. The defense began to grow weary trying to stop the three-pronged Tigers' rushing attack of Travis Bassett, Ryan Sullivan and Peter Murphy, who combined for 143 yards in the game. Bassett accounted for 93 yards rushing alone.
Littleton would reach the end zone again on a bullet by McLaughlin to Murphy for an 8-yard touchdown reception with 2:17 remaining before halftime, extending their lead to 15-6 as Sullivan's extra point was blocked at the line by Ayer-Shirley.
On the Panthers ensuing drive they would go four-and-out. The Tigers would have just enough time to compile another touchdown drive before the half expired.
McLaughlin connected with Ryan Sullivan on a picturesque spiral down the right side sideline for a 17-yard reception with just 29 seconds on the clock. A flea-flicker earlier in the drive set up the Tigers red-zone drive just before the halftime whistle.
First-year head coach Jason Rivers tried to rally the troops at halftime, but Littleton's offense was just too strong for the weary Panthers' defense to contain. Littleton made the most of their opportunities in the second half, punching in two more before the end of regulation.
The first score of the second half was a halfback blast by Murphy inside for a 1-yard touchdown plunge, extending the Tigers' lead to 30-6 with 4:48 remaining in the third quarter.
Ayer-Shirley turned the ball over on their first two possessions of the second half. Walker lofted a deep ball looking for Richard across the middle, but it was intercepted by Murphy at the Littleton 5-yard line with 6:40 remaining in the game.
McLaughlin lea the Tigers down the field with a little help from the Ayer-Shirley defense with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on the drive. Bassett pounded the ball right into the heart of the Panthers' defense, taking the ball 15-yards to paydirt to extend the Tigers lead to 36-6.
The Panthers faced a third-and-long situation at the start of the fourth quarter following an illegal chop block at the line of scrimmage. Walker kept his composure, and hooked up with Richard on a 52-yard laser down the right side as he was brought down at the 2-yard line. Walker took it into the end zone himself on a keeper left side to round out the final score of 36-12.
The Panthers finish the season at 1-10, but Rivers feels that the best is yet to come for the Panthers. "At any point in time, we have five or six freshmen and sophomores on the field," said Rivers. "I wish we would have grown up quicker during the season with the younger kids. We got experience money just can't buy."