WEYMOUTH, Mass. -– For the first time in school history, the Needham Rockets are headed to the Division I Super Bowl, as they defeated the New Bedford Whalers in the semi-finals on Tuesday evening at Weymouth High School, 42-14.
“It feels great, it feels great,” exclaimed Needham head coach Dave Duffy. “We’ve never won a playoff game, [and] it’s always hung over our heads a little bit.”
“They’re a good football team for sure, there’s no question about it, and we certainly respect them,” said New Bedford head coach Dennis Golden.
Needham sophomore quarterback Ryan Charter (183 passing yards, 3 total TD) led the way, while senior running back Mike Vespa (12 carries, 34 yards) and sophomores Mike Panepinto and Rashawn Wise each provided the Rockets with a score each.
The Rockets defense complimented their offensive unit by holding the Whalers' offense to just one touchdown in the fourth quarter, and by also recording seven sacks against junior quarterback Mike Rapoza.
“Nothing was going right [for us],” said Rapoza. “I didn’t have any time to read my reads, and it was just tough, really tough.”
Said Needham senior defensive lineman Jamie Arnao, “[The] D-line and linebackers played unbelievable. They were getting penetration all game long, even the second d-line when they came in there and they were dominating, so all around, defense played fantastic, d-backs got a couple coverage sacks, so it was a [good all around effort]."
Overall, Tuesday’s game was by far the best that all three Needham units played this season, and certainly that made Duffy quite pleased.
“Everybody played well,” said Duffy. “Everything went well there right up to the end, and I’m so proud of the kids.”
Charter carries the day: Needham had never won a playoff game until Tuesday against New Bedford, so while many doubted Charter and his chances to lead the Rockets to their first victory in school history, the young quarterback appeared completely unfazed for the entire 40 minutes, and played his best game of the season.
“He was near perfect,” said Burnett, when asked to describe his teammate’s performance. “He played a heck of a game, but he’s been unbelievable, making all the passes, making the right reads, and doing everything that a quarterback should do.”
“He was poised all game long, he didn’t get nervous,” said Arnao. “Having a kid like that in the huddle is awesome and now we know he’s going to make the play. We’ve got the confidence with him, [and] hopefully we can carry it into [Saturday].”
Charter completed 10 of 12 passes, and registered two scores with his legs. He appeared incredibly comfortable on the run, and even when his pocket collapsed too.
“It’s been our goal [to make it to Gillette Stadium, and Ryan] made it happen,” said Burnett.
Controlling the clock: The Rockets offense controlled the clock for a majority of the game and kept the Whalers offense sidelined for literally the entire second half. However, one of the biggest time constraining drives for the Rockets occurred during the third quarter, as Needham ate up roughly nine minutes, and tallied one score on 16 plays.
“We needed to get the ball back right away, [and] we didn’t do it,” said Golden. “They were a better team, [so] good job to them, great job to them.”
Golden also explained that the Rockets defense helped their offense keep the ball in their hands by forcing numerous three-and-outs.
“We had to establish a line of scrimmage, [but] they did it, we didn’t,” said Golden. “It’s frustrating, but they earned it, so hopefully we can earn it in the future.”
Needham’s Super Bowl Goal: Prior to the start of the season, numerous Needham seniors expressed their number one goal for the year was making it to Gillette Stadium. The Rockets clinched a spot in Saturday’s MIAA Division I Super Bowl against heavy favorite BC High, but Arnao he believes his team is mentally prepared for their final opponent of the season.
“We’ve got to play our game,” said Arano. “We’ve got a tough opponent against BC High, they’re going to be good, [and] we know that, so we just got to come out, and all the seniors have got to step up, all the under classman have to step up, and we just got to play our game, so hopefully we can get it done.”
NEEDHAM 42, NEW BEDFORD 14
NE (9-3) – 14 -14 - 7 - 7 --- 42
NB (5-6) – 0 - 0 - 6 - 8 --- 14
NE – Mike Vespa 33 run (Andrew Murowchick kick)
NE – Rashawn Wise 18 run (Murowchick kick)
NE – Mark Riley 13 pass from Ryan Charter (Murowchick kick)
NE – Charter 1 run (Murowchick kick)
NE – Charter 1 run (Murowchick kick)
NB – Mike Rapoza 65 kickoff return (rush failed)
NE – Mike Panepinto 17 run (Murowchick kick)
NB – Rapoza 15 run (Kevin Nunes run)