AYER – The Ayer-Shirley-Lunenburg Bengals fourth grade team isn’t ready to call it a season just yet.
On Sunday afternoon, the top-seeded Bengals kicked off their 2023 Central Mass. Youth Football League playoff run by welcoming fifth-seeded Hudson to the Harold G. Norton Athletic Complex.
With a spot in the Central Mass. Division 2 Super Bowl on the line, the Bengals came out and took care of business against the Hawks as A-S-L punched its ticket to the championship game with a 14-12 victory.
With the win, the Bengals improved to 6-3 overall on the season and will play for the championship on November 5 at Grafton High School. A-S-L will square off against third-seeded Fitchburg, who defeated second seeded Chair City in the other semifinal matchup.
Bengals head coach Bill McTurk spoke following his team’s victory on Sunday.
“This is an unbelievable feeling, these kids have played their butts off all year long. We told them from the first day of camp they had the talent to go really far and they’re going to go play for a Super Bowl,” said McTurk. “This had nothing to do with the coaching staff, this was all the kids. They earned this. They made the plays when they needed to.”
Sunday’s victory for the Bengals was their second win against Hudson this season. Ayer-Shirley-Lunenburg defeated the Hawks 24-0 back on October 1 on the same Harold Norton Field.
“Every team is different when you play them in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter how you did against them in the regular season. It doesn’t matter if you win by 100 or lose by 100, you’re going to get everyone’s best effort,” said McTurk. “Hudson was a completely different team than the first time we played them. They were hungry and they played us hard.”
To secure their spot in the Super Bowl, the Bengals defense needed to stymie the Hawks one last time inside the final minute of the ballgame.
Following a turnover on downs by the A-S-L offense, Hudson took over at the Bengals 20 with 56 seconds left in the fourth quarter. With A-S-L clinging to a 14-12 lead, the defense needed to make one final stop. Just one play into the possession the Hawks fumbled the football and A-S-L’s David Mancini came up with the football sending the Bengals sidelines into hysteria. The Bengals offense took the field and lined up in victory formation.
“We had so many players step up on the defensive side today,” said McTurk. “We had three interceptions, two by Ford McTurk and one by Bryce Maclean. The defense played really well.”
Ayer-Shirley-Lunenburg drew first blood in this one early in the second quarter with an 82-yard touchdown run by Charles Brown with 8:57 remaining until halftime. The conversion run by Jason DiPerri made it 7-0 in favor of the home team.
Hudson answered on the ensuing possession as the Hawks found paydirt with a 10-yard touchdown scamper by Dimitri Chaplain to pull the guests to within 7-6 with 4:53 showing on the clock until halftime.
Neither team could add to the points before the halftime break as the Bengals enjoyed a slim one-point advantage heading into the intermission.
The Hawks took the lead with 4:22 left in the third quarter on a 19-yard touchdown run by Jordan Dellatorre. The conversion pass attempt fell incomplete to keep it a 12-7 Hudson upper hand.
Hudson’s lead didn’t last long as A-S-L answered on its next drive. Setting up shop at their own 35, a false start penalty moved the ball back to the Bengals 30. On the next play Brown took the handoff and found a hole in the Hudson defense and took off down the right sideline and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown run to give A-S-L a 13-12 lead with 4:07 left in the third quarter. Bengals quarterback Wesley Lane called his own number and ran in the conversion attempt to make it 14-12 in favor of the Bengals.
A-S-L had several standout players on Sunday afternoon. In addition to Mancini’s game winning fumble recovery in the fourth quarter, teammates Lucas Thompson, Robert Dionne, Matt Salamon, Ford McTurk, Lane, Maclean and Brown all played well defensively.
In other Bengals playoff action this past weekend, the fifth-grade team fell to the top-seeded Oakmont Chargers 14-0 at Arthur I Hurd Memorial Field in Ashburnham.
The fifth-seeded Bengals, who defeated the fourth-seeded Marlborough in the opening round of the D2 playoffs 19-13, finish their season with a 6-3 overall record.
“Oakmont is very disciplined, their defense is really good. They scored on us early and they showed why they are the number one seed,” said Bengals fifth-grade head coach Pat Bishop. “We wanted to play for a division 1 championship and we knew we’re going to face some really good teams and Oakmont showed up ready to play against us. Despite the loss, I’m really proud of our guys and the great season we had this year.”