Panthers post shutout victory in opener

Independent league football team defeats rival RedHawks 20-0 to match last season’s win total

Less than two weeks before the start of the 2013 season, Granite State Panthers coach DJ Hutchinson had to call an audible.

The Panthers had expected to start Conant senior Shamus Donovan at quarterback, but a history of concussions forced Hutchinson’s top option out of the lineup.

So the independent league team made up players from Conant, Mascenic and Wilton-Lyndeborough turned to Mascenic sophomore Cooper Wayrynen. Wayrynen, who was slated as a starting receiver but had been practicing as Donovan’s backup, soon found himself under center for the opener.

And all Wayrynen did was help the Panthers equal last season’s win total with a 20-0 road victory over the Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton Red Hawks on Sunday.

“We’ve already matched last year and I’m really happy,” said Hutchinson. “We’re 1-0 and ready to keep this rolling.”

Wayrynen went 9-for-17 through the air for 170 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for five yards, while throwing a pair of interceptions, although one came on a tipped pass.

“He was very impressive,” said Hutchinson. “He proved he was mentally ready to play.”

After a scoreless first quarter, the Panthers struck early in the second when Wayrynen hit Michael Phillips for the first touchdown of the year. A missed extra point had the Panthers up 6-0.

It would remain a one possession game at the half, but a 75-yard drive to begin the third — capped off by Conant junior Josh Stevens’ six-yard touchdown run — gave the Panthers a 13-point lead. Stevens led the rushing attack with 78 yards on eight carries.

And with the way the defense was playing that was more than enough.

But just for good measure, Phillips returned a RedHawks punt 42 yards for a touchdown with just six minutes remaining for the team’s third touchdown. Phillips finished with three catches for 70 yards and two total touchdowns.

“That was a game changer for us,” said Hutchinson of Phillips’ punt return. “That pretty much sealed it for us.”

On the ground, the Panthers rushed for 11 first downs and 142 yards.

“We were very balanced,” said Hutchinson.

Against the Granite State defense, the RedHawks were unable to get anything going. The Panthers allowed just three first downs and 33 total yards, while forcing five turnovers.

“The best part of the day was the defense,” said Hutchinson.

Mascenic junior Tom Hitt recovered two fumbles and accounted for three sacks and five tackles.

Phillips and Mascenic senior Richie Brassard each had an interception and Conant’s Alex Cota also recovered a RedHawks’ fumble to go along with six tackles.

“It wasn’t one or two plays that won it for us. It was a total team effort,” said Hutchinson.

The Panthers host Berlin on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the home opener at Mascenic.

Last year, the Panthers lost all three meetings with the Gladiators.

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