AYER — It wasn’t the happiest of Homecomings for North Middlesex Regional.
The Patriots became the latest victim of the Marlboro football juggernaut Thursday night, as the hosts had difficulty in executing on third down while the visiting Panthers scored three first-half touchdowns in only 10 plays en route to a 38-16 rout of North Middlesex at Ayer Shirley Regional’s Harold Norton Memorial Field.
The loss drops North Middlesex to 0-7 on the season, and the Patriots will look to wrap up the regular slate a week from Friday when they travel to Worcester to play 5-1 Doherty at Foley Stadium.
Marlboro, which improved to 6-1 and would be level, record-wise, with Nashoba Regional should the Chieftains taste defeat at the hands of Wachusett Regional on Friday, will wriggle its way westward on Interstate 290 next week to take on Central Mass. powerhouse St. John’s of Shrewsbury in its regular-season finale.
Longtime North Middlesex head coach Sandy Ruggles was upbeat following the game.
“We played against a very good football team in Marlboro High, and those young men played a great game,” Ruggles said. “We got beat by a better team than us tonight, and now we’ll go back to the drawing board and get ready for an athletic team (next week).”
The Patriots (255 yards of offense) had quite a bit of fight in them through the first quarter, with sophomore quarterback Josh LeBlanc nearly converting on fourth-and-1 from the North Middlesex 48, only to fall just short by three links of the chain.
Marlboro, whose first-string offense efficiently gained 161 yards of offense on 29 penalty-free plays, would score three plays after the turnover on downs, with Evan Raun (11 carries, 84 yards, 2 TDs) taking the handoff on third-and-6, going off the right tackle and skirting toward the far sideline before waving toodle-oo to score from 45 yards away, putting the Panthers ahead for good.
North Middlesex would get on the board on the next series, as the running power of Adam Fournier and LeBlanc’s 20-yard precision pass to John O’Friel got the Pats into the red zone. And while LeBlanc connected with Matt Haskins at the left hash on fourth-and-5 from the 15 for a gain of 6, the Marlboro defense held tough and only yielded O’Friel’s 26-yard field goal with two minutes left in the quarter.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Marlboro returned it all the way back to the North Middlesex 10. Three plays later, fullback Lou Vigeant scored from 5 yards away to make it an 11-point, 14-3 game after Max Whitmore’s PAT.
After Marlboro forced a punt, which it blocked, the Panthers made it 21-3 as Raun scored from a yard away.
Marlboro would block another punt before Whitmore booted home a 24-yard field goal, which looked as though it would have been good from 44 yards.
The Panthers added two more TDs — one coming from the Marlboro second-string offense — before North Middlesex scored two of its own. First, Jared Woods scored from a yard out for North Middlesex, before teammate Derek Higgins scored from 31 away with seven seconds remaining in the ballgame.
North Middlesex was 4 of 12 on third-down conversions.