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Panthers continue to roll

Photo Credit to Kristin Clayton

AYER - Spooky season has arrived and Ayer Shirley has been feeling festive, showcasing its two-headed gridiron monster each Friday under the lights.


The Panthers rolled to a third consecutive win behind the play of juniors Brian Holmes and Cam Marshall, beating Quabbin Regional, 36-13. Holmes, the team’s quarterback, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, while Marshall terrorized the hosts with his open-field speed, netting a pair of back-breaking scores.


“I had an idea they’d be good,” laughed first-year Coach Bill Wright, who serves as the school’s varsity baseball coach. “They both play [baseball] for me. So I knew they were athletic, and I knew from [coaching football at Gardner], that they could play [football], too.”


After ceding the opening score to Quabbin, Holmes got behind the defense and raced 70 yards for a touchdown. Ayer Shirley successfully converted a two-point pass, senior wideout Zack Cebellero pulling down a toss from Holmes to take an 8-7 advantage.


The Panther defense held its ground on the ensuing possession, forcing a punt. Marshall secured the pooch on one hop, followed a frenzy of friendly jerseys and carried the pigskin 60 yards to paydirt. He also powered his way in for the conversion.


“Cam made an incredible cut at full speed to get free,” Coach Wright said. “He had great blocking in front of him - we had a good wall set up. But that last 20 yards was all him.”


Holmes and Marshall found a connection through the air in the second, adding to the Ayer Shirley lead with a 27-yard touchdown pass. Holmes padded the lead before halftime with a one-yard plunge, connecting with sophomore wideout Jackson Reed for a successful conversion.


Marshall capped a 36-0 scoring run with a lengthy third-quarter touchdown - a 46-yard home run sprint.


“He’s not afraid to run inside,” Coach Wright said of the 6-foot, 170-pounder. “He has a willingness to do whatever it takes. If he needs to go between the tackles, he does. And if he gets outside, he’ll turn on the afterburners and just go.”


Holmes finished the night with 113 yards rushing and 70 yards passing.


Aligned in its 6-2 formation, the Panther defensive efforts were led by ends Robbie Weeks and Ryan Marchand.


“We played good team defense,” Coach Wright said. “We made a couple of mistakes early on defense, but the kids learned from them. When they just use their athleticism and their natural instincts instead of over-analyzing things, we play much better.”


Ayer Shirley improved to 4-1 with the win - 2-0 in the Midland Wachusett League. Quabbin fell to 3-2, 2-1 MWL.


The Panthers’ biggest test of the season awaits with a road trip to Narragansett Regional (6-0) this Friday, 7 p.m. kickoff. The Warriors are averaging 35 points per game, while limiting the opposition to 8.25 points per contest.


“This is a litmus test,” Coach Wright said. “Everything goes through Narragansett in our league. My kids know where they want to go. If we can compete with them, we’ll know we’re there. If not, we’ll know where we have to get to if we [want to be champions.]”