By Ed Niser

WORCESTER — Coming into the season, Ayer Shirley second-year head coach Phil Marchegiani said that his youth-laden roster would get a lot of playing throughout the season.

Sophomore running back James Robinson rushed for 103 yards on 16 carries and scored three times to lift the Panthers to a 44-32 win over Worcester South at Commerce Bank Insurance Field at Foley Stadium. The Ayer Shirley offense combined for 220 yards.

“It’s a situation where we are starting a bunch of sophomores,” said Marchegiani. “There is going to be times when they play above the sophomore level and they got some good experience today. Our offensive line — those five guys up front — blocked very well today. You don’t put up 47 points without the guys up front.”

The Colonels battled back from a 30-0 deficit at the half to put the Ayer Shirley defense on notice. South’s Teddy Graham took the opening kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown to start the second half. South quarterback Kieth Berthiaume scampered into the end zone for the two-point conversion.

Later in the fourth, Berthiaume linked up with Jose Albino for a 27-yard touchdown to bring the Colonels to within 12, 44-32, with 1:03 remaining in the fourth after Berthiaume converted the 2-point try on a run.

But, the Panthers refused to let the hosts close the gap.

“There is still a number of things we need to work on special teams and tackling wise,” said Marchegiani. “It’s always nice to get that first win under your belt — especially for a young team. They’re learning how to play four quarters. That’s the important thing. It’s something to build on. We will look at the good plays and the ones we need to improve on in film.”

Ayer Shirley junior quarterback Steven Lawton (6 of 12, 100 yards) threw for three touchdowns and rushed for one . Blood hauled in a 28-yard dart from Lawton at the goal line. Robinson, then punched it in for his third touchdown of the day with 9:06 remaining in the third to push the Panthers’ lead out to 37-8.

Berthiaume hit David Dwyer in stride for a 25-yard pass and had an additional 10 yards tacked on due to an Ayer-Shirley penalty. Berthiaume plunged in from one-yard out with 3:02 left in the third to make it 37-16, which is where the score stood at the end of three. In the fourth, the Colonels continued to pile the pressure on the Ayer Shirley defense. South scored 24 unanswered points in the second half.

Lawton and the Panthers answered, as the junior captain scampered 16 yards on the keeper into the end zone to make it 44-24 following the Robinson PAT.

Defensively, Lawton caused a first half fumble. Also for the Panthers, senior James Driscoll pounced on a loose ball in the third quarter to setup a Panthes scoring drive.

Ayer Shirley returns home Friday night for a date with Burncoat High.

Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout:@EdNiser