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LUNENBURG — Quarterback Ryan Vultaggio connected with Riley Baxter for a 40-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the first half to put Groton-Dunstable on top for good and the Crusaders pulled away in the second half to record an impressive 36-7 win over Lunenburg on Friday night. The victory improved the Crusaders to 5-4 for the season.

Vultaggio tossed four touchdown passes in the game, completing five of 12 passes for 129 yards. Three of the touchdown passes were to Baxter (four catches, 68 yards), with Brian Murphy getting into the act with a 61-yard scoring reception.

Fullback Shane Penney (10 carries, 54 yards) added the other Groton-Dunstable touchdown, and added an interception and numerous tackles defensively.

The Groton-Dunstable defense played a physical game and shut down the Lunenburg ground game (77 yards on 27 carries). Lunenburg finished with 104 yards through the air and finished with 181 total yards.

“We are getting better and playing with more emotion,” said Groton-Dunstable coach Derek Asadoorian. “The kids are buying in and are more comfortable and I am proud of their effort.”

Lunenburg received the opening kickoff but couldn’t move the ball and punted, and Groton-Dunstable started a methodical drive down the field from its own 22-yard line. Penney, Baxter and Vultaggio were all productive on the ground behind the blocking of offensive linemen Ryan Dawson, Brad Ursprung, Erik Rasku, James Gresock and Phillip Dubay. A 14-yard run by Penney set up a first-and-goal at the 8-yard line, but the Lunenburg defense stiffened and forced a fourth-and-goal from the seven. Vultaggio found Baxter in the flat and the senior halfback dove into the end zone to make it 6-0.

“Converting that fourth down play into points was a big play,” said Asadoorian.

Midway through the second quarter, Lunenburg drove 55 yards on nine plays to get on the board. Quarterback Michael Sullender was the catalyst on the drive, moving the sticks with a seven-yard run, and completing four of five passes for 51 yards. The payoff came on a 19-yard connection to Ryan Havey. When Josh Trainque added the conversion kick, the Blue Knights led 7-6 with 1:26 remaining in the first half.

That proved to be enough time for the Crusaders to regain the lead. Vultaggio’s 20-yard run set up a first down at the Lunenburg 40-yard line. After a pair of incompletes passes, Vultaggio found Baxter behind the Blue Knights’ secondary for a 40-yard touchdown strike. Penney tacked on the conversion rush to send the Crusaders to intermission with a 14-7 lead.

The Crusaders maintained the momentum and wasted little time in tacking on the lead. On the second play of the second half, Vultaggio hooked up with Brian Murphy on a 61-yard pass and run, before a successful conversion rush by Vultaggio made it 22-7.

The Groton-Dunstable defense stuffed a pair of runs and forced a third down incompletion on the ensuing possession, forcing a punt. Penney broke through and blocked the punt, setting Groton-Dunstable up at the Lunenburg 14-yard line. On third-and-nine, Vulltaggio connected with Baxter who covered the 13 yards to the end zone, aided by a great block by Anthony Cotoni. With 6:03 remaining in the third quarter, the Crusaders were in command at 29-7 after Alex Dhionis added the conversion kick.

Luneburg appeared primed to cut into the lead on its next possession. Sullender rambled for 24 yards and a first down, and Trainque moved the sticks with a five-yard run to the Groton-Dunstable 30-yard line. But back-to-back sacks of Sullender by Dubay on third down and Ursprung on fourth down squelched the threat.

Penney intercepted a Lunenburg pass on the next possession, and scored from five yards out on the next play. Dhionis wrapped up the scoring in the game with another successful conversion kick.

“Offensively, we did a good job of taking what Lunenburg gave us,” said Asadoorian. “All game long we kept coming and didn’t give in. Tonight the kids came to play.”