LEOMINSTER -- The fifth-grade Broncos were the last of the Ayer-Shirley American Youth Football teams left in playoff contention when they went toe-to-toe with perennial juggernaut Leominster on Sunday in the district championship.
The two teams are no strangers to one-another, they met last year at Doyle Field, and Leominster emerged with a slim, 12-6, victory. Ayer-Shirley defeated Littleton on Wednesday, 17-6, to advance to Sunday's championship.
This time around, the only thing different was the margin of defeat as the fifth-grade Broncos fell to the Blue Devils, 19-0. But it was not without a gutsy effort by the local boys.
Leominster rode the broad shoulders of fullback Kyle Philbin who scored a touchdown and a point-after to help the Blue Devils soften the hard-nosed Broncos defense.
The Broncos won the toss and elected to receive. Ayer-Shirley took over at the 40-yard line and tried to impose its will with a run-first attack, started by its bruising back Christopher Rooney.
After picking up a gain of five yards on the first play from scrimmage, the Broncos coughed up the ball at the 40-yard line. Leominster's Jose Torres emerged from the pile with the football, as the Blue Devils took over. Philbin led the Blue Devils down inside the Broncos' 35-yard line, but that is as far as they would get.
Philbin took a hand-off up the middle on third-and-four, but he was stood up by Jack Pedreschi and a host of Broncos' tacklers at the line of scrimmage. Leominster opted to go for it on fourth and short, but Ayer-Shirley stood its ground and stuffed Torres in the backfield.
Ayer-Shirley took over on downs at its own 35-yard line. Back-to-back powerful sweeps by Rooney to the right sideline brought up a third-and-one from the Broncos' 44-yard line.
The Broncos failed to get anything going offensively and turned it back over to the Blue Devils, and this time they made the hometown boys pay.
With 10:49 left in the second quarter, Leominster's Rashawn Dixon got the corner and high-stepped into the end zone from 49 yards out.The point after attempt was stuffed by Ayer-Shirley's Gabriel Davis, which gave the Blue Devils a 6-0 lead.
Ayer-Shirley kept grinding by handing the ball off to Halston Wilkey and Rooney, but their runs did not amount to very much, as Leominster's defense was dialed in.
Ayer-Shirley's Ryan Horgan got the corner and stiff-armed his way to the 43-yard line, where he was stood up at the first down marker. On fourth-and-short, Rooney tried to bulldoze his way for the first down, but he was met by a host of blue jerseys, which resulted in a turnover on downs.
Broncos' signal caller Samuel Folger rolled out right looking to find the corner, but he was met by Philbin, who was storming in from the middle linebacker position for a loss of two on the play. Ayer-Shirley turned it over on downs, but it would get the ball back two plays later. A bobbled snap by Leominster was pounced on by Pinard at the 40-yard line.
Leominster added on a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to send the albeit tough Broncos packing.
Pedreschi led the Broncos' defense with six tackles, one of which went for a loss in the first half. Other notable Broncos performers on defense included Pinard (five tackles) and Dillon Granberg with three tackles.
Leominster advances to the Central Mass. Super Bowl this Sunday at Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton. Ayer-Shirley finishes its season at 7-3 and head coach Mark Pinard could not be more proud of his team's effort.
"We had a lot of injuries in the beginning of the year," Pinard said. "We had kids fill in different roles throughout the year. That team over there, (Leominster) is comprised of all fifth-graders. We are a combination of fourth- and fifth-graders. For us to compete against them, we are facing some big towns. Other than that, it's a good, special group of kids."