CLINTON — Traveling to Clinton to play football is always a tough test no matter when you make the trip. But for the Ayer football team, the task was made a little more difficult on Friday night as they caught a team coming off a month long road trip. Getting to play in front of the home fans for the first time this season, the Gaels put on an offensive show, coasting to a 41-16 victory.
The star of the night was fullback Philip Nobrega, who was nearly unstoppable. On the night, the senior fullback carried the ball 12 times for 218 yards and four touchdowns while adding a 45-yard punt return for a score using a mixture of power, speed and great moves on his way to a five touchdown night.
After the teams traded punts to open the game, Clinton got on the board with a big play. A three-play, 54-yard march was capped off when Nobrega took a handoff on third-and-two, went up the middle and cut to the right sideline dashing 46 yards for a score. Brendan Cutler hit Kyle Cutler with the conversion pass to make it an 8-0 game.
On the ensuing possession, the Panthers put together its best drive of the first half. Starting at its own 22, Ayer used the running of Sylvester Marshall (36 yards) and DaShawn Taylor (18 yards) to get the ball down to the Gaels’ 18. Facing a fourth-and-five, the half back option pass was called but fell incomplete, forcing a turnover on downs.
Clinton responded with a six-play drive that ended in the end zone.
The key play came on third-and-five from the 23 as Brendan Cutler used a play-action fake to freeze the secondary and connected with Jonathan Arnone for a 56-yard strike. From there, it was Nobrega who did the work, carrying three consecutive times, the last one covering five yards off the left tackle for a touchdown. The PAT by Brendan Cutler was good as it was now 15-0 just over a minute into the second quarter.
A forced fumble by Jonathan Hird was recovered Cody Colon and gave the Panthers a bit of hope, but the offense couldn’t take advantage and were forced to punt. On the kick, Nobrega fielded the ball at the Ayer 45, patiently waited for his blockers to set up and then went untouched into the end zone for a score. The conversion rush failed as the lead grew to 21-0.
Another Ayer three-and-out led to another Gaels’ score. After a 10-yard holding penalty on the first play of the drive, Clinton covered 62 yards on just five plays keyed by the arm of Brendan Cutler.
The senior quarterback connected on two passes for 50 yards, including a 41-yard hook-up with Cody Trautner that resulted in a score. A pass fell incomplete on the conversion attempt as it was now 27-0 at the break.
At the start of the third quarter, the Panthers had a chance to get on the board thanks to a roughing the punter penalty that gave them new life. A 21-yard completion by Marshall to Austin Luckey gave Ayer a first down at Gaels’ 17, but on the next play a lateral was recovered by Kyle Cutler and brought the drive to an end.
This time, Clinton went 82 yards on 11 plays to add on to their lead.
Nobrega was the catalyst once again, carrying the ball three times for 60 yards and did the honors of closing out the march with a 13-yard jaunt up the middle. The PAT kick was wide left but the Gaels were in complete control, up 33-0.
To the Panthers credit, they refused to go quietly, coming up with consecutive scores in the fourth quarter. Marshall (106 yards on 27 carries) broke the shutout by going in from four yards out and Tony Banchs connected with Scott Monge for the two-point conversion. Ayer then recovered an onside kick and Banchs finished off the ensuing drive by going in from a yard out. Marshall added the conversion rush and suddenly it was a 33-16 game.
Another onside kick attempt was recovered by Clinton and they put the finishing touches on the contest. On the first play from scrimmage, Nobrega broke loose, capping off his amazing night by going in from 47 yards out. Michael Bradley added the two-point conversion rush to complete the scoring and help the Gaels improve to 4-1 on the year.
The Panthers, who dropped to 2-3 with the defeat, will return home on Friday night for a league match-up against Murdock. The kickoff will be at 7.