AYER -- Panthers' head coach Billy Wright was met with some challenges early in the season. In week one, it was a block in the back penalty that cost his team the game. Week two, his two top players in running back, Dre Carmona and senior quarterback, Zak Walker, both were nipped by the injury bug.
Week three brought a new challenge when two Ayer-Shirley starters were suspended for an incident that happened during the school day. Despite a couple of new players injected into the starting lineup, Ayer-Shirley pummeled the visitors from Burncoat, 21-2, in its home-opener at Harold G. Norton Memorial Field.
"We had some adversity last week when we lost our tailback and our quarterback early in the game, when we were ahead," the first-year head coach said. "Then, today we had some discipline problems in school. At 4 o'clock, I found out that I had to juggle three starters. We had to move things around. I am proud of the kids for playing hard. I had a ton of new kids in new positions."
On the Panthers' second drive, senior quarterback Zak Walker, marched the troops down inside the Patriots' red zone. Ayer-Shirley would not be denied. Walker hooked up with his younger brother, Alex Walker, down the sidelines for a 14-yard TD reception with 5:14 remaining in the first. Kicker Robert Lawton tacked on the PAT, to put the Panthers up 7-0.
After Burncoat converted on fourth down, the Panthers defense knew it needed to make a stop. And it did.
Junior outside linebacker Alex Walker set the tone early for the Panthers when he leaped up and intercepted Burncoat senior quarterback, Chris Ladou. Alex secured the ball and sprinted 75 yards for the touchdown with 22 seconds remaining in the first quarter, to put the Panthers up, 14-0.
"Alex came through on both sides of the ball," Wright said. "He did a great job replacing Dre (Carmona). Our defense goes through Alex. When Alex plays, the defense is that much better."
The Panthers tacked on another touchdown with 5:26 remaining in the half when Zak Walker dialed up a long-distance bomb to co-captain, fullback Ryan Richard. Richard hauled in the pass along the Ayer-Shirley sideline and sprinted 46 yards for the TD, to give the Panthers a 21-0 lead.
Poor punt blocking led to a safety for the Panthers late in the second quarter. Burncoat junior defensive back, Terrence Agayre-May bull-rushed up the middle and blocked the punt, sending it out of the end zone with 1:31 remaining in the half.
Burncoat had a couple of chances following the free kick to punch it in the end zone before half-time, but the Ayer-Shirley defense held its ground. Alex Walker picked up his second interception of the game to end the half and silence the Patriots' offense.
Burncoat running back, Nana Asamoah, rushed for 38 yards on eight carries to lead the visitors. Ledous was 7-of-11 for 76 yards. Ayer-Shirley quarterback Zak Walker finished the evening 5-of-13 for 85 yards and 2 TDs. Zak Walker hauled in an interception on defense with 51 seconds remaining to ice it for the Panthers. Four Ayer-Shirley tacklers recorded two solos each. They were Tyler Mayo, Robert Warila, Zak Walker and Alex Walker.
"In the first half our offensive line blocked really well," the coach said. "With the discipline stuff, I had two new offensive linemen. They did a tremendous job. When Ryan Richard went down with cramps, I had Owen Carpenter and Zack Patton playing in the back field. They, too, did a good job.
"We have Murdock on the road next week. We still haven't found anything to hang our hat on offensively. We are still struggling. With the offensive line playing the way they did tonight, and Dre likely coming back, we can build on it, and go from there."