Marshall, Marshall, Marshall.
That was the refrain from a battered and beaten Brady Bunch leaving Lunenburg High School this past Friday night, vanquished by crosstown rival Ayer Shirley, 37-14.
On an evening when the Blue Knights were without the services of captain Brady Burns, the visiting Panthers made sure to bring the star power. Senior tailback Cam Marshall ran for a career night, carrying the ball 17 times for 272 yards, scoring five consecutive touchdowns as the Panthers (2-1) racked up 37 consecutive points.
“He was a step ahead of the defense for most of the night,” said Ayer Shirley Coach Bill Wright. “He was just coming downhill with so much speed. He was reading his blocks really well, and cutting when and where he needed to. It was an incredible display to watch.”
The Panthers had to dig themselves out of a 7-0 hole after fumbling the opening kickoff.
Lunenburg compiled an eight-play, 30-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a one-yard TD plunge from sophomore keeper Alex Figueroa. A successful PAT kick from placekicker Zahir Chavez gave the hosts a seven-point edge early in the contest.
“It was a mistake,” coach said. “They pooched it into the air, we called a fair catch and our kids ran into each other. After that, the offense came together and we played a helluva football game.”
Marshall got loose on the ensuing drive, sprinting into the endzone for a 40-yard touchdown trot. The senior ran in the two-point conversion, allowing the Panthers to take an 8-7 edge into the second quarter.
Led by the play of ends Julian Cale and John Iannacone, the Ayer Shirley defense shut down a Blue Knight attack playing without two-way star Brady Burns. Lunenburg entered the contest averaging 33 points per contest, as well as three passing touchdowns per game. With Cale and Iannacone applying pressure up front, the Panthers secondary took on the challenge as defenders Ryan Marchand and Brian Holmes made multiple pass breakups.
“We tried to contest everything,” Coach Wright said. “We pressed their receivers and used physicality to get them off their landmarks. They had some completions, but we kept everything in front of us and didn’t allow for the big play.”
Meanwhile, Marshall continued his career night.
The star tailback ran for scores from 5 and 18 yards out in the second quarter, helping Ayer Shirley take a 22-7 lead into the break.
The more physical Panthers offensive line continued to wear down the Blue Knights in the second half, opening up huge holes for Marshall. In the third quarter, he scored from 35 yards out. In the fourth, he closed out Lunenburg with a 24-yard touchdown scamper.
“Our game plan coming in was to force-feed Cam the ball,” Coach Wright said.
The Ayer Shirley skipper was complimentary of the team’s continued progression in its blocking, exclaiming, “I like where we are.”
“Cam got plenty of help on the edge,” Wright said, praising the work of Robbie Weeks, Wyatt Gallant and Ryan Marchand. “Our line was determined and we executed every time. I think we had only one play for negative yards all night.”
Fullback James Gauntlett helped the cause, rushing for 30 rushing yards on six carries. Quarterback Brian Holmes completed five passes for 55 yards.
“It was a total team effort,” the coach said.
With postseason aspirations alive and well, Ayer Shirley hopes to be singing again next Friday when they travel to Gardner for a 7 p.m. tilt. The Wildcats are 1-2 on the season, beating Keefe Tech in Week Two.
“The biggest thing for us is to keep building continuity and to stay healthy,” Coach Wright said. “Our guys know they are a good football team, but we’ve got to keep them grounded. If we can do that, we’re going to be very successful.”
On a night when the Panthers’ golden boy had a golden night, the team fittingly sang Sweet Child Of Mine, celebrating a lifetime-best performance from Marshall. The post-game musical recitals began last year with the team singing songs from the 80s following a road win. The tradition continued late Friday evening as the whole bus joined alongside Guns N’ Roses singer Axel Rose on the victory lap back to Ayer Shirley High School.
“That was a really good rendition!” laughed Coach Wright. "The boys even got the cheerleaders signing along!"
“This is what it’s all about,” he added.
“Making memories. And if you can have a nice ride, and win along the way, well, that’s a bonus.”