WELLESLEY, Mass. -- The Needham Rockets clinched the Bay State Conference Carey Division title, and earned their second playoff berth in three seasons, after defeating their archrival Wellesley Raiders, 42-18, on Thanksgiving morning.
"It’s nice to win on Thanksgiving, especially for the senior class," said Needham head coach Dave Duffy. “I’m glad that they came out of here with a win, and I’m glad they’re going to the playoff’s.”
The Rockets were lead on offense by Nico Panepinto, who totaled three touchdowns. Defensively, Ronnie Rosser led the way with three interceptions.
But it was Wellesley (2-9) who scored the games first points with 3:54 remaining in the first quarter, on a 65-yard screen pass from Matt Pini to Dan Elfman.
Needham (8-3) scored twice before the end of the quarter, Panepinto scoring the Rockets first TD on a busted reverse. The Wellelsey defense read the play well, but Panepinto used some skill to avoid a tackle, and broke the play back across the field for a 16-yard touchdown run.
“I got the ball and immediately there was a guy right in my face,” said Panepinto. “I cut back and it completely opened up, it was a little bit of luck and a little bit of cutback.”
After the Rockets' defense forced a three-and-out from Wellesley, Needham went to their playmaking tight end Mark Riley for a 61-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Ryan Charter to give Needham a 14-6 lead after one.
On the first play of the second quarter Dan Pierce caught a 32 yard touchdown pass from Charter to give the Rockets a 21-6 lead.
It looked like Needham was pulling away from Wellesley for good, until Pini hit Matt Dziama over the middle half way through the second quarter and Dizama took it 71 yards to the house.
Panepinto scored his second touchdown of the day with 4:14 left in the first half with a leaping catch on the goal like to catch a 20 yard pass for the score giving Needham a 28-12 halftime lead.
Wellesley scored early in the second half when senior running back Alex Pernokas went 25 yards untouched up the middle for a touchdown cutting Needham’s lead to 10.
Panepinto scored his third touchdown of the game in midway through the fourth quarter, catching the ball on the one yard line and diving for the pylon with a defender on his back for a 30 yard score.
Rosser had the last score of the game when he returned his third interception of the game for a 55 yard touchdown and a 42-18 final.
“I just wanted to score,” Rosser said of his first varsity touchdown. “It feels good, coming into this game I didn’t think I’d grab three picks.”
The Rockets will face New Bedford on Tuesday evening in the Division 1 Playoff’s.
As a Team: After suffering season ending injuries to their starting quarter, Drew Burnett and playmaking running back, Ian Riley, the Rockets have continued to play strong and will be playing post-season football for the second time in three seasons. Coach Dave Duffy credits that to his senior class.
“There is only one other class that I can think of that was part of two Bay State winning teams and went to the playoff’s,” said Duffy. “I’m excited for the seniors and I wish Drew and Ian were with us, but they’re still helping us.”
“We always want to do it for Drew and Ian,” said Rockets senior captain Mike Vespa. “Were a big family, we’ve been playing together for years and we want to do it for each other.”