CLINTON – Football games are usually won in the trenches and the results will generally show in the running game. On Friday night, the Ayer football team got pushed around on the line and it showed in the end result. The Panthers ran for just 51 yards on the night while Clinton swept, countered and powered their way to 247 yards, en route to a 28-12 Division 3 victory.
“We did not do a good job blocking tonight and it affected both our running and passing games,” said Ayer coach Jamie Lamoreaux. “The word I would use is inconsistency. There were flashes again tonight of us becoming a better team, but we are just too inconsistent.”
In the early battle of field position, the Gaels came out on top, taking advantage of a short field to score the game’s first points. An 11-yard punt return by Eric Arsenault (93 rushing yards, 95 return yards) put the ball on the Ayer’ 21-yard line and Clinton needed just four plays to find the end zone. Jose Gerrera picked up 18 yards on a sweep to set up first-and-goal from the three and three plays later, quarterback Connor McLaughlin snuck the ball in from a yard out. The PAT kick was good by Gerrera to make it 7-0.
On the ensuing drive, the Panthers offense responded in style. Starting at their own 32, Ayer marched down the field behind a balanced attack, keeping the Gaels’ defense on their heels. Jordan Montoya carried twice for 14 yards while Ryan Carroll completed all four of his passes for 39 yards, including a six yard scoring strike to Brian Wallace on a slant pattern in the middle of the end zone. The conversion pass fell incomplete, but it was now a 7-6 game early in the second quarter.
During the closing minutes of the opening half, Clinton regained the momentum by adding to their advantage. On the 10 play, 64-yard march, the legs of Gerrera (five carries for 43 yards) did most of the work, moving the ball down to the two-yard line. An apparent touchdown was called back do a personal foul, putting the ball on the 17. After losing a yard on a pair of runs, the Gaels went to the air as McLaughlin threw a perfect strike to Phillip Weihn down the seam for a touchdown. Gerrera booted the extra point to make it 14-6 heading into the locker rooms.
Clinton’s special teams made the first big play of the second half when Arsenault broke a 50-yard kickoff return before being dragged down by Brian Babcock. The Gaels stayed on the ground and on the fifth play, Arsenault went over the left side and scored from nine yards out. Gerrera’s extra point made it 21-6.
Ayer needed to answer and did. On third-and-11 from their own 37-yard line, Carroll connected with Babcock out of the backfield and he rambled 58 yards to the Clinton five yard line. On the next play, Kyle Cherico took a toss off the left side and outran the Gaels defense for a score. The conversion pass failed, but the Panthers trailed just 21-12.
Clinton turned to its running attack to put the game away and the Gaels responded with an 11-play, 70-yard scoring drive. The big plays included a 24-yard run by Tommy Conlin and a 23-yard dash by Arsenault to the Ayer 11-yard line. Ayer held for three plays but on fourth-and-two, Cam Lucci bulled up the middle for the touchdown. Gerrera’s PAT made it 28-12 with 10:30 left in the game.
The Clinton defense preserved the win with a pair of three-and-outs.
“We just had a real difficult time of making tackles and limiting big plays,” said Lamoreaux. “Offensively, we passed the ball pretty well, but our running game was non-existent. We made too many mistakes to win.”
Carroll completed six of his 12 passes for 127 yards and touchdown while adding 17 yards rushing for Ayer. Babcock had three receptions for 95 yards while Anthony Raneri anchored the defense with another sterling effort, recording 23 tackles in the losing effort.