NEEDHAM, Mass. -- Week in and week out, doesn't seem to matter who's under center or who's catching those darting throws over the middle. Needham High continues to find ways to get it done.
As the Rockets shuffled Kevin Brennan and Drew Burnett at quarterback, just as they have done all year, so too did skill players like juniors Mike Vespa and Ian Riley contribute to tonight's 27-14 win over Framingham in a variety of ways.
Both Vespa (79 yards rushing, 35 receiving) and Riley (40, 58) posed threats to the Flyers' defense through the ground and air, and were especially helpful against the Flyers' bend-but-don't-break defense. With Sean O'Connell and John Downey clogging the middle and linebacker Javier Santiago bringing all sorts of pressure with blitzes off the edge and through the A-gaps, Needham head coach David Duffy called the numbers of Vespa and Riley to stretch the field to the sidelines. He even incorporated Brennan into the run game at times, motioning him from the slot to take jet sweeps around the end.
"It's really good," Duffy said of the versatility under center. "When Kevin came back from injury (he's been battling back and shoulder problems at times throughout the season), we started getting him in there. Every week, we've gotten more comfortable putting him in that packet (in the run game), our offensive coordinator Chuck Thornton does a great job, and we'll continue to add to it as we go on. It's definitely a change from what we normally run."
The Rockets (6-2) opened up the scoring midway through the second quarter with a 15-yard strike from Burnett to Mark Riley, who came across the shallow middle end zone on a delayed slant route. But it was their second strike, just three minutes later, where the ability to adapt shone through. On fourth and 15 from the Flyers' 20 yard line, Brennan initially looked to his right for a screen pass to Vespa; but the convoy was covered up, and so Brennan reversed direction and rolled to his left, eluding the rush and finding Ian Riley wide open at the near left pylon on a wheel route for the touchdown.
"We didn't coach that," Duffy said. "We tell them what to do, but you can't coach stuff like that. I mean, that's just two kids playing football in the backyard doing a great job."
Ian Riley then flexed his coverage ability to kick-start the Rockets in the earlygoings of the second half. Greg Finley (139 yards passing, two touchdowns) and Travis Hayes (seven catches, 37 yards) drove Framingham all the way to the Needham 19 on its opening drive of the third quarter, only to toss a potential touchdown strike to the near left pylon and watch as Riley leaped up, kicked out his front leg and came down with the pick. After the ensuing three-and-out by Needham, the Flyers took the ball again at the 40, only to watch Riley come up with the pick again just two plays into the drive.
In recent years under Gary Doherty, the Flyers have operated smoothly under a fast-paced no-huddle offense. That seemed to have little effect on the Rockets, despite playing many guys two ways, and for the most part the Flyers had to settle for short strikes over the middle and in the flats. Finley completed just three passes that went over 15 yards.
"We had a tough week," Riley said. "We were practicing staying outside on them. I thought we did a good job on their no-huddle offense."
On the first play of Needham's first drive, to start the fourth quarter, the ball was fumbled away and fallen on by Framingham's Christian Wilkins. But just a play later, Needham middle linebacker Will Steinberg caught and easy Finley strike over the middle, broke for the left pylon and took it all the way to the house, for a 21-0 lead and all the cushion the Rockets would need in this one.
Doherty fanned the blame unto himself for his team's first-half performance.
"I'll take responsibility for the first half," Doherty said. "We were off rhythm the whole first half. We didn't establish anything. You want to establish something offensively, run or pass, we didn't establish anything and I own that."
NEEDHAM 27, FRAMINGHAM 14
FRA (5-3) 0 0 0 14 --- 14
NED (6-2) 0 14 0 13 --- 27
N - Mark Riley 15 pass from Drew Burnett (Nick Wong kick) 7:06
N - Ian Riley 19 pass from Kevin Brennan (Wong kick) 4:01
N - Will Steinberg 40 interception return (Brian Tedoldi kick) 11:42
F - Joseph Igoe 11 pass from Greg Finley (Gregory Hemmer kick) 7:51
N - Phil Comma 8 run (kick blocked) 1:48
F - David Odhiambo 15 pass from Finley (Hemmer kick) 0:53.6