NEEDHAM, Mass. -- The Needham football team proved Friday night that the loss of one player is not going to derail its chances at a Bay State Conference Carey Division title and more.
With starting quarterback Drew Burnett out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury, sophomore Ryan Charter found himself at the helm against Walpole and proceeded to burn the visiting Rebels with one big play after another in a 31-22 Rockets' win.
“Honestly, I found out (that I would start about) 20 minutes before the game,” said Charter, who completed 5-of-10 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. “A couple kids were telling me, ‘You’re going to get in the game.’ I was, like, ‘Alright, that’s all I need.’ But I didn’t know until today.”
The heavy-hearted coach of the No. 16 Rockets, David Duffy, had to compose himself when he remarked how his players “wanted to do it for Drew.”
They did it alright, as they took down Walpole for the first time since 2006 and looked good doing so. Despite Walpole having what Rebels coach Barry Greener said was his team’s best offensive game of the season, Needham (6-1, 6-0 in the BSC) never wavered, landing haymaker after haymaker.
Ian Riley (115 yards rushing) set up Needham’s first touchdown with a 64-yard run that was soon followed by a jet sweep to senior Dan Pierce, who pulled up and hit Nico Panepinto for a 31-yard touchdown.
Walpole (6-1 overall and in BSC) answered with a Steve Thulin 4-yard score but the PAT was wide right to keep it at 7-6. One play later, Charter hit Mark Riley for a 67-yard touchdown pass as the Rockets took a 14-6 lead into halftime.
They built on it on the first series of the third quarter when Charter found Mark Riley again, this time for a 74-yard score that pushed the advantage to 21-6. Walpole immediately answered on a Shane Blass (152 yards rushing) 66-yard scoring run that helped make it 21-14 after a P.J. Hayes two-point rush.
Needham again had a response, though, as Charter hit Mike Vespa on a 49-yard screen that led to a 19-yard Andrew Murowchick field goal.
The Rockets defense then held for a turnover on downs and the offense chewed up 6:48 in a drive that culminated in a 6-yard Ian Riley run to make it 31-14 midway through the fourth.
Walpole added the final points when Hayes scored from six yards out and Blass added the two points out of the Wildcat, but Needham ran out the clock effectively on the final drive to secure the victory.
A BALANCED EFFORT
Walpole coach Barry Greener praised Needham after the game for always having great balance on offense, and his team paid dearly for it on Friday night. The Rockets can hurt defenses in a variety of ways, and the Rebels simply had a hard time getting Needham’s offense off the field. Charter was efficient on his throws, did not turn the ball over and made the Rebels pay for cheating up on play-action. The running back duo of Ian Riley at tailback and Vespa at fullback provided the sleeper hold on Walpole’s defense when it needed to kill the clock in the final quarter. Mark Riley again proved to be a speedy option in the passing game, and Pierce also made two big receptions in the fourth to help the Rockets extend their final touchdown drive, including a 24-yarder on third-and-13 from the Needham 18. The Rockets simply put on a clinic against one of the better defenses in the area.
There was a lot of speed on the field, but Hayes, a junior cornerback and wide receiver, may have been the fastest player out there. Although he bit on the trick play that resulted in Needham’s first score, he prevented one earlier in the drive when he chased down Ian Riley from a bad angle on the 64-yard run. Hayes also broke up several passes with good technique on some long throws to his side. And if Hayes wasn’t the fastest player on the Rebel sideline, it was Blass, who can really scoot once he gets in the open field. The Rebels have struggled at times on offense this year, but those two only need a little space to change those fortunes on any given play.
NEEDHAM 31, WALPOLE 22
Walpole (6-1, 6-1 BSC) 0 6 8 8 - 22
Needham (6-1, 6-0 BSC) 7 7 10 7 - 31
N - Nico Panepinto 31 pass from Dan Pierce (Andrew Murowchick kick)
W - Steve Thulin 4 run (kick failed)
N - Mark Riley 67 pass from Ryan Charter (Murowchick kick)
N - M. Riley 74 pass from Charter (Murowchick kick)
W - Shane Blass 66 run (P.J. Hayes rush)
N - Murowchick 19 FG
N - Ian Riley 6 run (Murowchick kick)
W - Hayes 6 run (Blass rush)