LITTLETON -- For the visitors from Ayer Shirley, Thursday morning's Thanksgiving clash was the last game its five seniors would likely ever play.
However, for the tough Littleton side, it had the meaning of nothing more than a backyard battle. Littleton head coach Mike Lynn, whose team is gearing up for its date with Cohassett in the Division-6 finals at Gillette in a couple of weeks, opted to play his starting nucleus of Travis Bassett and senior quarterback Alex MacLaughlin (6-of-9, 156 yards, 2 TD's) sparingly. The Tigers led 30-0 at half-time, and they never looked back as they defeated Ayer Shirley in the Route 110 Bowl, 36-8.
Lynn was not worried about the (3-8) Panthers game being a trap, but he wanted to make sure his team was battle-ready for Cohasset.
"This new scenario we have every Thanksgiving, being in the state final, is an interesting one," Lynn said. "We just wanted to play the game hard enough to get the win and come out 12-0, while being respectful to our opponent. A few things fell in our favor. We got a lot of young kids in. It was a good day for us."
The Littleton defense wasted no time forcing the Panthers to punt on the game's first offensive series. Littleton went to work at a fast-and-furious pace. After taking over at its own 50-yard line, Littleton used a 30 yard pass from MacLaughlin to Matt Jackson. The Tigers set up shop at the Ayer Shirley 28-yard line and fed Bassett in the red zone. He delivered with a shifty 20-yard touchdown run to make it 6-0 Littleton with 7:10 left in the fourth. The Tigers opted to go for two points, but sophomore DJ Richards and senior captain Anthony Burwell swallowed up Travis Bassett ( 9 carries, 80-yards, 2 TD's) at the line.
Littleton kept its wheels spinning offensively.
Four minutes removed from its first score, Murphy punched in the Tigers' second touchdown from 2 yards out. Murphy had a run of 65 yards that set-up his short touchdown run, but senior Dre Carmona knocked him out shy of the goal line. Elijah Pyram trotted in with the 2-point conversion to make it 14-0. Bassett and Pyram would score for the Tigers before the conclusion of the first half to make it 30-0.
Carmona and Panthers Game MVP Ryan Richards gave the Panthers their most promising chance at the end zone late in the second quarter. Carmona brought Ayer Shirley across midfield with two first down runs. Then, Ryan Richards hauled in a pass from sophomore quarterback Daniel Goldstein in traffic and brought it down inside the 30-yard line. Goldstein found Carmona down the sideline for a gain of 10. Then RIchards took the ball from his fullback position inside the 5-yard line. Goldstein had time for one more play and he hit Richards across the middle, but he was wrapped up as time expired.
Littleton fumbled on its first possession of the second half and the Panthers pounced on it. DJ Richard scooped up the ball for a 3-yard return as Ayer Shirley took over at the 25-yard line. Carmona (12 carries, 64 yards) carried the ball for a first down to bring Ayer Shirley down inside the red zone. That's when Ryan Richards (6 carries, 33-yards 1 TD) took over. Richards jetted out of the backfield and down the right sideline before stretching the ball over the goal line plane to make it 30-6. The Panthers tacked on the two-point conversion to make it 30-8 with 8:15 left in the third quarter.
Pyram chipped in a 2-yard plunge late in the third for the final Tigers' touchdown. With four seconds remaining in the game, senior quarterback Zak Walker, who is nursing an MCL tear he suffered against Narragansett, came into the game for the final play of his high school career.
"We have faced some adversity without Zak," Ayer Shirley head coach Billy Wright said.
"Mike told us this is a team who comes around once every 10 years. He has a lot of skilled kids and a lot of athletes. He kind of let up on us and I really appreciate it. We're down to 22-23 kids. It is a class act on his and his kids' parts.
"We are where we are," he said. "The kids played for four quarters and they competed -- that's all I can ask."