AYER -- Coming off a solid effort, the Ayer-Shirley football team was supposed to use Friday night as a springboard towards a solid second half of the season. But sometimes even the best laid plans fail. The Panthers came out flat and never recovered as a gutsy Murdock team dominated throughout in a not-as-close-as-it-seemed 22-14 victory in Mid-Wach D league play.
"We came out flat and lifeless and never got things going," said Ayer-Shirley coach Jay Rivers. "I felt like we expected them to just come out and rollover. That didn't happen. Give them credit, they came out and played hard. We did not."
Coming into the game, the Blue Devils had scored just 24 points the entire season, 17 of those coming in the fourth quarter of games. On this night, they looked like an offensive powerhouse, racking up 309 yards, 295 of them via the run, on 53 plays. Defensively, Murdock was even better, holding the Panthers to just 63 offensive yards on 35 plays.
On their first possession of the night, the Blue Devils showed that they meant business. A nine-play, 66-yard drive was led by the three-headed rushing attack of Jacob Santiago, Dominic Allard and Patrick Culverhouse. The trio combined for all nine carries, keyed by five runs for 26 yards by Santiago, including the last four on a dash up the middle for a touchdown. Santiago also added the conversion rush to give Murdock an 8-0 lead just over six minutes into the game.
The next five possessions all resulted in three-and-outs, as it appeared it would remain an 8-0 game heading into the half, but Ayer-Shirley's defense had other ideas. On a third-and-15 from the 43, a Blue Devils pass was intercepted by Josh Elysee, who picked up a line of blockers and raced down the left sideline for a 72-yard interception touchdown return. Zak Walker came up with the conversion rush to tie the game at 8-8 heading into the intermission.
It took just four minutes of second-half play for the Blue Devils to reclaim the advantage. Starting at their own 38, Murdock moved the ball down the field, keyed by a 28-yard run by Allard that moved the ball down to the Panthers 12. A pair of runs netted a loss of two yards and brought up third-and-14. The call was for a screen and Andrew Polcari lofted a pass out to Allard, who made a couple of great moves to get by a swarm of defenders on his way to a 14-yard TD. Culverhouse added the PAT kick to make it 15-8.
After forcing a punt on the ensuing possession, the Blue Devils added to their lead with another scoring march. Five plays and 68 yards were sparked by a 33-yard run by Jack Wardwell and a 16-yard run by Allard. Santiago did the rest, carrying three times for 19 yards, including going up the middle from five yards out for a score. Culverhouse was true on the extra point, pushing the lead to 14 at 22-8 late in the third quarter.
Ayer-Shirley's offense could not get anything going as they went three-and-out and turned the ball over on downs the next two times they got the ball. It appeared Murdock was going in for the game-clinching score late in the fourth, but that changed quickly. After going 65 yards from their own 34 to the 1, the Blue Devils fumbled and Alex Walker was there to pick up the ball and race 96 yards for a touchdown. The conversion failed, but the Panthers brought it to 22-14 with 1:10 to play.
A failed onside kick attempt gave Murdock the ball at their own 42 and Culverhouse broke off an 11-yard run on the first play of the drive. Two runs for six yards set up a key third-and-four with 46 seconds left. Needing a first down to clinch the game, Santiago picked up exactly four yards to get a first down and put the game on ice.
Santiago led all rushers with 80 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Allard added 76 yards on 10 runs and a receiving TD. Wardwell ran six times for 75 yards while Culverhouse chipped in 48 yards on 11 rushes.