FITCHBURG — It hasn’t been a question of passion. The effort has been there for the Red Raiders.
But big plays have been few and far between for Fitchburg High on the gridiron this fall. Through four games entering Friday night’s tilt with Marlboro at Crocker Field, the Red Raiders had reached the end zone just four times — being shut out twice — and struggled to come up with stops when the opposition had the ball.
The search for a spark continues.
The visiting Panthers (4-1) had no trouble dispatching the winless Red Raiders on Fitchburg’s Homecoming night, returning to Marlboro with a 28-0 victory in tow.
“That’s a very good team. They’re a tough team and we knew they’d be tough, but we have tough kids, too,” Fitchburg head coach Greg Graham said. “They’re a good team, but I thought we gave them more than what they actually earned.”
To Fitchburg’s credit, the hosts hung with the Panthers for the majority of the first half before imploding with some undisciplined play.
Down 7-0 and driving toward midfield late in the first half, the Red Raiders were preparing for a third-and-8 play after a short loss on a run by Devanni DeLeon. But the hosts were called for three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties after the run, setting them back to face third-and-40.
An incomplete pass and a punt followed, with the Red Raiders getting called for both interfering on the catch of the kick and another unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Marlboro the ball just 15 yards from pay dirt.
It didn’t take long for the Panthers to add to the lead, as five plays later, Fernando Rodrigues scored from three yards out. Brandon Alfaro’s second PAT of the night gave the guests a 14-0 lead with 1:28 left in the half.
“That killed us,” Graham lamented. “We’ve got to be more disciplined and work to be better.”
After the Panthers picked off a Lucas Beaulac pass on the next play from scrimmage, Alfaro hauled in a 24-yard touchdown strike from Michael Benway with :57 left in the half, adding the point after for a 21-0 edge and taking all wind out of Fitchburg’s sails.
In all, Fitchburg was called for 13 penalties for a total of 167 yards.
“The penalties were definitely the difference in the game,” Graham said. “You lose momentum. You can’t play like that. You won’t win games that way.”
Borges punched in his second touchdown run of the night with 2:35 left in the third, scoring from six yards out to cap the scoring. Alfaro’s fourth PAT of the night was true as the Panthers claimed a 28-0 advantage.
The Red Raiders return to action next Friday, welcoming Westboro to Crocker Field.