Boston High School: Drew Burnett

Needham pair give football commitments

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
5:48
PM ET
Two of Needham High's senior football standouts from the past season have given their college commitments.

Quarterback Drew Burnett will be heading to Tufts next season while safety and receiver Dan Pierce will play his college football at Middlebury.

Burnett threw for 18 touchdown passes and 1,320 yards before suffering a season-ending leg injury in the Rockets' game at Milton. He's expected to make a full recovery and play next season for the Jumbos.

Pierce had over 100 tackles, along with three interceptions, while posting 25 catches for 515 yards and six touchdowns on offense. He was also voted team MVP for the Division 1 EMass Super Bowl finalists by his teammates.

The View from Needham

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
10:28
PM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In advance of Saturday's MIAA Super Bowls, the teams playing at Gillette Stadium toured the facility and took part in media day festivities on the field.

Our Scott Barboza caught up with the members of the Needham Rockets who will tussle with Catholic Conference champion BC High in the Division 1 EMass Super Bowl.

Here's the view from Needham with captains Drew Burnett, Peter Madsen, Mark Riley and Mike Vespa:

Recap: Needham 42, Wellesley 18

November, 24, 2011
11/24/11
6:16
PM ET


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.”

Recap: Natick 49, No. 16 Needham 24

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
12:58
AM ET


NEEDHAM, Mass. -– Just one week after the No. 16 Needham Rockets scored one of their gutsiest wins of this season, they came back to Earth thanks to an electric Natick offensive display, the Red and Blue winning 49-24 to hand the Rockets their first loss of 2011.

“This is huge. That’s a great team,” said Natick head coach Mark Mortarelli. “Unfortunately, they’re under-manned, a couple of guys got hurt during this game, [and] of course the quarterback’s out, but anytime you beat Needham, they’re very well-coached and they’re very balanced. It’s just huge for us.”

Natick sophomore quarterback Troy Flutie, (11 of 14, 181 yards, 2 TD), set the tone early, as he connected with sophomore wide receiver Alex Hilger for the game's initial score, before Needham responded with a field goal by senior place kicker Andrew Murowchick.

The Rockets then surprised the Red and Blue on the ensuing kick-off with an onside kick, which set up sophomore quarterback Ryan Charter's nine-yard scoring strike to senior tailback Mike Vespa. Flutie and freshman Brian Dunlap, (12 carries, 69 yards 3 TD), responded with a score each, which gave Natick a 21-17 lead at the break.

In the second half, Vespa (11 carries, 78 yards) capped off a seven play series with a five-yard plunge. But it was all Natick the rest of the way, scoring 27 unanswered points. Flutie threw and ran for a score, while Dunlap and junior Nick Lee each sprinted by Needham’s defense for points.

“[This win] is great," Flutie said. "It gives us so much confidence heading into Wellesley, Walpole and Framingham. I feel great about those games, [and] I really feel like we can win those and go farther."

Line Opened the Run: After the Red and Blue celebrated their seventh win of the season, Flutie and Dunlap thanked their offensive line after the game, who provided the necessary holes to help the team combine for 255 yards on the ground.

“The running game was awesome," Flutie said. "Our o-line blocked awesome, our coaching as awesome. Coach [Brian] Maloney, Coach [Matt] Brenneman, all our o-line men did their jobs, and we had holes, it was great.”

Said Dunlap, “I know the offensive line was awesome. I’m so happy for those guys, they worked their butts off, and they practiced hard all week, and it’s tough being an o-line men, but they’re proud of what they do. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Even Mortarelli was quite pleased, saying, “They were just clicking. That was the best I’ve seen them play, and I was really proud of our offensive coaches.”

Needham’s Injuries: The Rockets offense, defense and special teams was nipped by the injury bug all evening, as senior running backs Ian Riley and Mike Vespa both left the game and did not return.

Riley, (three carries, 28 yards), who exited after the first quarter returned to the sidelines for the remainder of the contest with no pads or helmet, but instead, crutches. After the game concluded, he quickly muttered that he sprained his MCL and could most likely miss the rest of the season.

As for Vespa, he may have sustained a concussion on the team’s only touchdown of the second half, according to head coach Dave Duffy.

“We think he could be back in a couple of weeks, so we don’t know," Duffy said. "Riley hopefully [will] be back in a couple weeks too.”

Burnett returned to the gridiron: Two weeks after his quarterbacking career at Needham ended with a broken ankle against Milton, senior co-captain Drew Burnett returned to Memorial Field on Friday evening, and met Natick’s captains at midfield for the opening coin toss. Afterward, Burnett was forced to watch his team struggled against a Red and Blue offense that refused to be stopped.

“It’s tough to watch, especially with a game like this [one],” said Burnett after his team’s second loss of the season.

NATICK 49, NEEDHAM 24
NAT (7-1) 7 14 7 22 --- 49
NEE (7-1) 10 7 7 0 --- 24

First Quarter
Nat – Alex Hilger 32 pass from Troy Flutie (Sam Lenson kick)
Need – Andrew Murowchick, 35 field goal
Need – Mike Vespa 9 pass from Ryan Charter (Murowchick kick)

Second Quarter
Nat – Brian Dunlap 20 run (Lenson kick)
Need – Nico Panepinto 27 pass from Charter (Murowchick kick)
Nat – Flutie 14 run (Lenson kick)

Third Quarter
Need – Vespa 5 run (Murowhick kick)
Nat – Nick Lee 2 run (Lenson kick)

Fourth Quarter
Nat – Flutie 6 run (Dunlap run)
Nat – Dunlap 36 run (Lenson kick)
Nat – Dunlap 7 run (kick blocked)

What We Learned: Week 7

October, 25, 2011
10/25/11
1:45
AM ET
UNEQUAL AT 11 ON 11
It might be even in man power, but Everett's receivers feel they're always at an advantage.

“There’s 11 men on both sides, but they can’t cover all of us," junior wideout Jalen Felix said after the Crimson Tide's 35-21 win over BC High on Saturday.

Felix had a coming out party as a legitimate big play receiver an Everett touchdown drive in the second quarter. On that drive, Felix made an other-wordly one-handed grab laying on his back with a BC High defender in his back pocket.

Still, the Everett offense isn't a one-man show. Kenny Calaj, Jakarrie Washington and Jaylen McRae all bring different elements to the Crimson Tide passing attack. Not to mention, Vondell Langston is running out of his mind of late (two straight 100-plus yard games).

“If I make a good play, it’s because of my teammates,” Felix said. “It’s not because of me., it’s because they did their jobs that I had the opportunity to do mine and vice versa.”

ALL EYES OUT WEST
Springfield's Blunt Park bustled with activity on Monday afternoon. Two junior varsity football game were ongoing, the were a soccer game being played at Springfield Central HIgh in the distance, cheerleading practice, along with that of both Central and Springfield Putnam's varsity football practice.

There you could find two of the elite rushers in Massachusetts this year, practicing within about a football field's distance from each other.

Melquawn Pinkney has garnered plenty of headlines with his multiple 300-plus yard games as a legitimate Mr. Football Award contender.

But, last weekend, it was Central's Sacoy Malone who stole the show in another record-setting performance.

Malone fell one touchdown shy of a Western Mass. record with a school-record seven-touchdown performance against Northampton to go along with 301 yards on the ground.

It's just another in the long line of weighty accomplishments compiled by the best the Springfield area has to offer.

"I think the me, Melquawn [Pinkney] and T.J. [Norris of Longmeadow] and what we've done this year, we're out to show that there is talent actually out here," Malone said during an interview for ESPN Boston's Player of the Week segment.

"Hopefully, we show that there's a possibility that you can make it to play in college coming from here."

So far, Malone has college offers from Fordham along with Central Connecticut State. Something tells us there might be more to come.

NEEDHAM SETTING NEW CHARTER

With star quarterback Drew Burnett (broken ankle) done for the year, Needham head coach David Duffy told the media early last week that he would likely use a rotation of three kids under center to fill the role in last Friday’s pivotal matchup with Walpole.

Few could have expected a sophomore by the name of Ryan Charter to make such an impact on such a crucial Bay State Conference tilt, albeit on less than a half-hour’s notice.

“Honestly, I found out (that I would start about) 20 minutes before the game,” Charter told ESPNBoston correspondent following the Rockets’ 31-22 win. “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 numbers Charter put up in his debut (5 of 10 passing, 222 yards, 2 TD) suggests that the X-factor with this Rockets squad falls upon two Rileys.

Mark Riley had touchdown catches of 67 and 74 yards to pace the Rockets early, and showed once again why he is one of the state’s premier pass-catching tight ends. Armed with a lacrosse skill set and an athletic frame, the senior takes on an Aaron Hernandez-like role with the team – that is, a tight end by nature, but one that lines up all over the field to create mismatches. Ian Riley, meanwhile, went over the century mark again as the team’s primary weapon out of the backfield.

Coupled with guys like Nico Panepinto, Mike Vespa and Dan Pierce, that's a vicious group to deal with.

CONCORD-CARLISLE IS OFFICIALLY A WAGON

Like probably a lot of you, we raised our eyebrows at the final of Concord-Carlisle's vicious romp of Westford two weeks ago: 61-14, and with relative ease. Tyquan Culbreath kicked things off with two long touchdowns on his first three carries, part of a combined 336-yard effort between himself, Tim Badgley and midseason All-State selection George Craan.

But as the old saying goes, you never look as good in your best win, and as bad in your worst loss (or something like that). But we couldn't help but rush to judgment this week, given the Patriots' historic win over long-time Dual County League powerhouse Acton-Boxborough. C-C knocked off A-B in convincing fashion, 35-12, for its first win over the Colonials since 1987.

Patriots head coach Mike Robichaud admits the offense has been ahead of the defense in many games this year -- and the score sheet (39.1 points per game) undoubtedly reflects that. But not to forgotten is the precision of the offensive line and the swarming style of play the defense has demonstrated.

Robichaud and his staff gush about the skills of center Andrew Vander Wilden, an ESPN Boston midseason All-State selection and a horse at 6-foot, 245 pounds. Combined with Tom Gregory, Thomas Kleyn, Trevor Castrichini, and Owen Guattaduaro, the Patriots boast an offensive line on par with some of the state's other top units like Everett, Duxbury, BC High or Auburn. Add 6-foot-6 tight end Henry Bumpus into the mix, and that's quite a chore.

“Henry Bumpus is one of the best blocking tight ends I have ever seen at the high school level,” Robichaud told correspondent Ryan Kilian following the A-B win. “He has been doing this for us for three years now. On defense teams cannot run at him at this point. He just does a great job and plays the entire game for us.”

Defensively, Bumpus makes his impact felt at the defensive end position, and has been a load to handle.

“I was really proud of our defense,” Bumpus told Kilian. “That is a very good offensive football team and we did a good job stepping up tonight. On offense we have five of six returners back on the line and we are really focused on getting back to where we were last year. We are blocking well right now and the backs are hitting the holes well so it is all coming together for us.”

IS THE CATHOLIC CONFERENCE WIDE OPEN NOW?

That's the question on everyone's mind in the wake of a devastating season-ending ankle injury to BC High's Preston Cooper -- a Darren Sproles-like fixture for the No. 5 Eagles, the reigning Catholic Conference MVP, an ESPNBoston Mr. Football candidate, and arguably the state's top prospect at tailback.

Nobody will argue the Eagles have one of the state's most competitive schedules in arguably the state's toughest conference. There isn't a bad loss on the schedule, including the New Jersey teams, and there isn't a poor win. And personally, we feel Deontae Ramey-Doe is a more than suitable backup, should the Eagles go that route -- his upright running style, while a change of pace from the low-moving Cooper, has an air of deception to it.

But there's four teams with a shot here. Xaverian, with competitive losses to each of our Top 3 teams, has too good of a coaching staff and defensive line not to throw some haymakers in conference place. Catholic Memorial is showing signs of life, and has to be encouraged by A.J. Doyle's four touchdown passes and 200-plus yards last week.

The wild card in all of this is St. John's Prep. With a green line, quarterback change and an offense that sputtered out of the gates, many had written off the Prep as a team in rebuilding mode. But the emergence of sophomore Jonathan Thomas the last two weeks has some giving second thoughts, especially after putting up 41 points on St. John's of Shrewsbury two weeks ago.

This could be one of more exciting races for conference supremacy, and it all starts Friday when the Prep takes a visit to Catholic Memorial. Get your popcorn ready.

THE BEST QUARTERBACK NOBODY'S TALKING ABOUT

Write this name down: Greg Heineman.

Quietly, the Minnechaug senior is putting together one of the state's finer seasons for a signal-caller. While he didn't register a touchdown pass in last week's 21-14 win over Westfield, he finished up with 347 yards on 26 of 37 passing.

Through seven games for the 7-0 Falcons, who come in at No. 22 this week in our statewide MIAA poll, Heineman is completing nearly 62 percent of his passes for 1,742 yards and 15 touchdowns to just four interceptions (our friends at MassLive have his stats tracked here). Seven different Falcons players have caught a touchdown pass, which suggests Heineman demonstrates good reads and hits the open man.

Recap: No. 16 Needham 31, No. 17 Walpole 22

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
11:41
PM ET


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.

SPEED MERCHANTS
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


1st quarter
N - Nico Panepinto 31 pass from Dan Pierce (Andrew Murowchick kick)

2nd quarter
W - Steve Thulin 4 run (kick failed)
N - Mark Riley 67 pass from Ryan Charter (Murowchick kick)

3rd quarter
N - M. Riley 74 pass from Charter (Murowchick kick)
W - Shane Blass 66 run (P.J. Hayes rush)
N - Murowchick 19 FG

4th quarter
N - Ian Riley 6 run (Murowchick kick)
W - Hayes 6 run (Blass rush)

10 thoughts from the first half of football season

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
7:19
PM ET
ARE TRIPLE-DIGITS OUT OF THE QUESTION FOR LIL’ DIBS?
Barring catastrophe, we fully expect Everett quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso to break Tom Colombo’s all-time passing touchdown mark of 85 before the month is over. He’s four away, and he’s got two games to do it – this Saturday against BC High, and on Oct. 28 in the Crimson Tide’s Greater Boston League opener against Medford.

The question now is that, with seven games left on the schedule (let’s just declare them Super Bowl-bound now), whether he can surpass the century mark. Last season, he threw for 16 scores in the Tide’s four GBL contests, and another five in two playoff wins over Andover and St. John’s Prep.

All evidence points to DiBiaso shattering the state mark and putting the record nearly out of reach, when all is said and done.

IS NO. 16 NEEDHAM FOR REAL?
A few weeks ago, when the Rockets upset then-No. 6 Weymouth, we would have told you yes. Even before that, when the Rockets went toe-to-toe in an eventual 36-30 loss to Mansfield, we’d have told you Needham’s on to something.

Now? We’re not sure what to think. Drew Burnett , a senior quarterback with Division 1 offers, broke his ankle in two places during Saturday’s 49-14 win over Milton, putting an end to one of the more promising seasons in the Bay State Conference. With a healthy Burnett, we like their chances of not only controlling their destiny in the Bay State Carey, but against whomever comes out of the Big 3 conference for the Division 1 playoffs.

Head coach David Duffy told ESPNBoston correspondent Matt Noonan earlier today that he will use a rotation of three guys at quarterback in Friday’s crucial tilt with No. 17 Walpole. The Rockets have shown to lineup quality athletes in Dan Pierce, Nico Panepinto, Ian Riley and Mark Riley (no relation), but you have to wonder how quickly the understudy can adapt to Duffy's system, which has begun to diversify the last few years.

AUBURN’S OFFENSIVE LINE IS A WAGON
We’ve sung their praises several times before, but it bears mentioning again: even after a bump in the road, No. 14 Auburn’s line is rising as one of the state’s best units.

Comprised entirely of juniors and sophomores – including a 6-foot-4, 305-pounder who is just 15 years old – this makes the Rockets at team to watch over the next few years. With short splits and a precise zone-blocking scheme, these guys are a cohesive unit up front and have been blowing teams off the ball to the tune of 17 rushing touchdowns. Dan Flink is the Rockets’ Peyton Hillis, but give speedster Fred Taylor some room to run and he is one of the shiftier players in the Worcester area.

Within the Central Mass sphere, this will continue to be one of the more dangerous teams in Division 3.

HOW TOUGH WILL THE ALL-STATE RACE BE AT RUNNING BACK?
Extremely tough.

But such is the beauty and the beast of picking a true statewide All-Star team that doesn’t just simply reward the 25 best running backs in Eastern Mass. – when you’ve got just four slots to pick from 300-plus schools, an elite player inevitably gets left off the list.

Andover’s Andrew Coke came into the season as the lone returning All-State running back (Catholic Memorial’s Armani Reeves was an athlete selection). But as good as he’s been for the 4-2, Golden Warriors, there have been better resumes through the first half of the season.

BC High’s Preston Cooper has 14 rushing touchdowns through six games and is coming off a 202-yard performance in a 32-0 blanking of a tough Marlborough squad. Concord-Carlisle’s George Craan would be on pace for a ridiculous senior season if not for the emergence of Tyquan Culbreath, and the overall ease with which the Patriots have disposed of opponents so far.

Meanwhile, a trio of Western Mass. tailbacks have emerged on the scene forcefully, all averaging seven yards or more per carry.

Springfield Putnam’s Melquawn Pinkney currently leads the state in rushing yards (1,526) and rushing touchdowns (24). Longmeadow’s T.J. Norris (1,003 rushing yards, 15 TD) is a fire hydrant at 5-foot-8 and 220 pounds. Folks within the Everett program still tell us Springfield Central’s Sacoy Malone (916 yards, 7 TD) is one of the best backs they’ve faced in two years. If his performance in the Eagles’ 21-20 upset of Longmeadow last week is any indication (194 yards, 2 TD), he could be in for a terrific second half.

Also not to be forgotten is King Philip’s Charles Ruffin, who is coming on strong after a 147-yard performance in last week’s win over North Attleborough. The track star’s elite speed is known about statewide, but he’s starting show his toughness between the tackles. Health will be key, as he’s already missed some time with injury.

GIVE P-FUNK CREDIT
Back when Paul Funk was still an assistant at Everett, the program at Dennis-Yarmouth was in such shambles that the school was thinking of dropping the program altogether.

In his first year, back in 2001, the Dolphins played only JV games. Since then, he’s slowly built up a program that has become arguably the Cape’s most consistent over the last half-decade. Since their last losing season in 2006, the Dolphins are 38-12, including a 6-0 mark this year; if the Dolphins stay the course, they will wrap up their third 10-win season in six years, and their second-straight Division 2A playoff berth after earning their historic first a season ago.

This year, the Dolphins boast one of the state’s elite jump-ball receivers in Damion Johnson and arguably the toughest pound-for-pound quarterback in Matt Montalto. But it’s not about the superstars that make this program go.

More often than not, D-Y wins with undersized players who are neither big nor athletic, but embrace contact and love to hit. With little depth, most of the starters go both ways, and guys like 5-foot-7 defensive tackle Tommy Kennedy are relied upon to shoot the gaps rather than fill them. At the end of the day, this is a well-conditioned, disciplined team that has to be one of the favorites in Division 2A if all goes to plan.

WILL THE KNIGHTS BE RIDING COME DECEMBER?
Have you heard about Catholic Memorial's four FBS recruits? Have you heard about their opening day loss to Marshfield?

It’s all old news, but now the question is whether the Knights can heed the lessons learned from the Rams debacle and translate that into a Catholic Conference championship.

Following a bye week last week, the Knights will embark on their four-game conference schedule, which is bisected by a matchup with Brockton in two weeks, on Friday against Malden Catholic. The biggest of those game occurs in their Thanksgiving Day game against BC High, provided there are no missed steps along the way. You have to like CM’s chances against Malden Catholic and the Prep, but if CM can knock off Xaverian, that would set up the winner-take-all matchup at the end of their regular season schedule.

There’s no question the Knights have the talent to beat Xaverian, or the third-ranked Eagles for that matter. But, as has been the case in the last couple of seasons, it’s not about if, it’s about when. Is this the time that the group led by A.J. Doyle, Donovan Henry, Armani Reeves and Camren Williams prove good on their promise?

CAN NEW BEDFORD WIN THE BIG 3 AGAIN?
When New Bedford knocked off Brockton in their Big Three meeting last November, it was a shocking upset.

If the Whalers are to repeat the feat this year, a New Bedford victory wouldn’t be greeted with such surprise.

Myles Medeiros (11 TD passes) has the Whalers offense firing with a legitimate down-field threat in receiver Jaraud Wood, while running back Marcel DePina needs only a yard to shake loose from defenses in the open field. In addition, the defense, led by junior lineman Tyler Arena has been strong.

Meanwhile, Brockton pulled off an upset last week against New Hampshire behemoth Pinkerton Academy (its fifth straight win against the Astros), so you can’t count out the Boxers quite yet, despite a slow start (1-3) to the season. But clearly the balance of power in the Big Three (read: Brockton, Brockton and, ahem, Brockton) isn’t quite what it used to be.

… THAT BEING SAID
The most encouraging thing you can say about Brockton’s season thus far has been the emergence of quarterback Austin Roberts. The junior signal-caller had his biggest game yet last week against Pinkerton. Roberts completed 14 of 22 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns to down the Granite State’s top team.

If Roberts can keep the big plays coming, Brockton is still very much a threat.

ROCK ‘EM, SOCK ‘EM
No. 4 Chelmsford showed once again last week why the Merrimack Valley Conference Large runs through them in a thorough victory over Andover on Saturday.

But let’s not crown the Lions and Mr. Football challenger Tim Joy champions just yet. After all, they still have a pesky Central Catholic team on the schedule, in addition to huge games at Lowell and at Billerica to finish on Turkey Day. Both the Red Raiders and Indians made their debuts in our Top 25 this week after both teams have been flying under the radar a little at 5-1. Dynamic quarterback R.J. Noel has Red Raider nation believing that this could be the team to unseat Chelmsford, while the Indians feature a defense that is much improved from last year’s edition.

Plus, Billerica still has that LaSpada kid causing havoc for defenses and you can’t underestimate that.

ROCK ‘EM, SOCK ‘EM: PART DEUX
Akin to the MVC, the Hockomock League always fields one of the most competitive leagues in the state from top to bottom. And we’ve seen that parity play out in the first half, what with Stoughton’s shocking win over Mansfield.

What is for certain is that the league, which now has two playoff bids for the first time for its Davenport and Kelley-Rex winners, is still wide open.

Mansfield remains in the driver’s seat in the large division with wins over King Philip and Attleboro, but the Hornets’ game against North still looms. In the Davenport, the likely winner-take-all meeting between Oliver Ames and Stoughton is still three weeks away, but the Tigers’ matchup with Mansfield on Friday will be a good indicator of how far they’ve come this season.

Mr. Football Watch: Week 7

October, 17, 2011
10/17/11
12:21
PM ET
HOW THE CONTENDERS FARED

George Craan, Sr. RB, Concord-Carlisle - Part of a three-headed rushing attack in Friday's 61-14 stomping of Westford, carried 10 times for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Preston Cooper, Sr. RB, BC High - Ran for 202 yards and three touchdowns in the Eagles' 32-0 shutout of Marlborough.
Casey DeAndrade, Sr. RB, East Bridgewater - On just four carries, totaled 179 yards and three scores, as the Vikings cruised to a 42-14 defeat of Carver.
Jonathan DiBiaso, Sr. QB, Everett - Threw for 308 yards, and added 55 on the ground, totaling three scores in the No. 1 Crimson Tide's 42-21 win over Xaverian. He is now four touchdown passes off the state's all-time mark of 85.
Sacoy Malone, Sr. RB, Springfield Central - Carried 26 times for 194 yards and two touchdowns in the Golden Eagles' 21-20 upset of Longmeadow.
Matt Montalto, Sr. QB, Dennis-Yarmouth - In the Dolphins' 14-0 shutout of Marshfield, carried 22 times for 148 yards and a touchdown, and also added 82 yards through the air on 6 of 13 passing.
T.J. Norris, Sr. RB, Longmeadow - In the loss to Central, carried 26 times for 170 yards and all three of the Lancers' scores.
Matt O'Keefe, Sr. QB, Duxbury - Was 11 of 20 passing for 191 yards and a touchdown in the Dragons' 21-0 blanking of Scituate.
Melquawn Pinkney, Sr. RB, Putnam - Another week, another monster performance. He carried 31 times for 297 yards and five touchdowns in the Beavers' 56-14 win over Springfield Cathedral. Through six games, he leads the state in rushing yards (1,526) and rushing touchdowns (24).
Charles Ruffin, Sr. RB, King Philip - Carried 23 times for 147 yards and two scores in the Warriors' 19-7 win over North Attleborough.
Cody Titus, Sr. RB, St. Bernard's - Remember our "400 Rule"? Well, this kid just became a contender after rushing for a state-record 436 yards on 34 carries for five touchdowns in the Bernardians' 33-14 win over Littleton. Through six games he's carried 180 times for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Brandon Walsh, Sr. QB, North Andover - Totaled five scores, including a 26-yard interception return, in the Knights' 46-0 shutout of Philips Andover.
Don Webber, Sr. WR, Duxbury - Caught seven passes for 109 yards in the Dragons' 21-0 win over Scituate.

ON THE RISE

Drew Burnett, Sr. QB, Needham - Completed 8 of 11 passes for 290 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-14 rout of Milton, but unfortunately that will be his last. He left the game with a broken ankle, and is done for the season.
Jamison Craft, Sr. RB, Gardner - Put in a workmanlike 27 carries for 192 yards and three touchdowns in the Wildcats' 28-7 win over Tyngsborough.
Tyquan Culbreath, Sr. RB, Concord-Carlisle - In the Patriots' 61-14 thrashing of Westford, gave them a jump early with 130 yards and four scores on just six carries.
Jalen Felix, Sr. WR, Everett - A breakout game to say the least, caught 10 balls for 145 yards and a score in the Tide's 42-21 win over Xaverian.
Greg Heineman, Sr. QB, Minnechaug - In the Falcons' 39-14 win over Agawam, he was 23 of 37 passing for 246 yards and four touchdowns.
Vondell Langston, Sr. RB, Everett - Ran for a career-high 203 yards and two scores on 15 carries in the Tide's 42-21 win over Xaverian.
Zack Jackson, Sr. RB, Amherst - Accumulated 282 yards of offense, including 228 on the ground, and two scores in a 44-41 win over Chicopee Comp.
R.J. Noel, Sr. QB, Lowell - Threw for 189 yards and totaled four scores in the Red Raiders' 42-15 rout of Central Catholic.
Mark Riley, Sr. TE, Needham - Hauled in three touchdown passes in the Rockets' 49-14 rout of Milton.
Eddie Sheridan, Jr. RB, Chelmsford - Led the Lions' rushing attack with 145 yards and three scores on 20 carries, in a 48-28 win over Andover.
Jonathan Thomas, Soph. RB, St. John's Prep - Exploded for 235 yards and three scores on 27 carries in the Eagles' 41-20 rout of St. John's (Shrewsbury).

Recap: Needham 45, No. 6 Weymouth 28

October, 1, 2011
10/01/11
9:41
PM ET
NEEDHAM, Mass. -– Prior to the start of the 2011 season, Needham had this particular contest circled on their calendar.

And, well, they certainly seemed prepared, as the unranked Rockets beat up on the No. 6 Weymouth Wildcats, 45-28.

The Rockets relied heavily upon their ground game, as senior tailbacks Ian Riley and Mike Vespa ate up the Wildcats front seven, combining for 279 yards and three rushing touchdowns.

“We [were] working on running the ball all week,” Needham head coach Dave Duffy said. “We got four good running backs and we try to give them the ball and Ian got tired their late in the game, we put Vespa in and he usually blocks, so it’s nice for him to carry the ball a lot and they both did a great job.”

Following a quick scoring strike from Weymouth’s senior quarterback Cam McLevedge to senior receiver Shawn Whouley in the first quarter, Needham’s offense took over and tallied 24 points. Needham senior quarterback Drew Burnett, who finished the game with three touchdowns, connected with both Nico Panepinto and Ian Riley to take a 24-7 halftime lead.

To start the third quarter, the Rockets took a page out of the New Orleans Saints' book, catching the Wildcats' special teams unit off-guard with an onside kick, which led to a touchdown pass from Burnett to Panepinto.

The Rockets' lead wasn’t totally safe, as McLevedge connected with senior receiver Khary Bailey-Smith for back-to-back scores before the Rockets defense collected three interceptions and forced junior running back Ozzy Colarusso to fumble the ball on Weymouth’s final drive.

“It’s a very disappointing game. We practiced [this past] week on what they were going to do, [and] we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to do,” McLevedge said. “I take a lot of blame for the game, made a lot of bad reads, [but] we just got to bounce back for next week and just see what we do in the rest of the season.”

Ian Riley’s dominance: The senior tailback tallied 186 yards on 22 carries for two touchdowns, as well as recorded two receptions for 29 yards and one touchdown. Weymouth’s offense struggled against Needham’s running attack, which ate up the front seven all game. Riley rushed for 142 yards on 13 carries in the second half, as well as recovered a loose ball during the first half.

Denying Mark Riley: While Needham’s pass happy offense struggled at times, Weymouth’s linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties shutdown Burnett’s safety blanket. Weymouth head coach Kevin Mackin described Riley has the best tight end in the state.

“He’s just clobbering everybody and we put a great athlete on him, our quarterback, which is double duty for him, so maybe that hurt a little offensively, who knows, but he covered him and we had Bailey-Smith over the top,” Mackin said. “We maybe over-committed a little bit, but clearly that kid is the best tight-end in the state when we [wanted] to make sure that we slowed him down [and] unfortunately they had way too many weapons to go to other than him.”

Wildcat Turnovers: Mackin expressed that the turnovers was the biggest issue for Weymouth, who recorded three interceptions and two fumbles.

“We’ve been pretty fortunate staying away from it obviously, [but] it caught up with us tonight and we got our share hopefully for the season,” Mackin said. “[There was] just way too many against a fantastic football team.”

NEEDHAM 45, WEYMOUTH 28

NHS (3-1) 14 10 7 14 --- 45
WHS (3-1) 7 7 14 0 --- 28

1st Quarter
W – Shawn Whouley 6 pass from Cam McLevedge (Tyler Smith kick)
N - Ian Riley 3 run (Andrew Murochick kick)
N – Nico Panepinto 23 pass from Drew Burnett (Murochick kick)

2nd Quarter
N – Riley 29 pass from Burnett (Murochick kick)
W – Ozzy Colarusso 5 run (Smith kick)
N – Murochick 25 Field Goal

3rd Quarter
N – Panepinto 15 pass from Burnett (Murochick kick)
W – Khary Bailey-Smith 14 pass from McLevedge (Smith kick)
W - Bailey-Smith 19 pass from McLevedge (Smith kick)

4th Quarter
N - Riley 32 run (Murochick kick)
N – Mike Vespa 6 run (Murochick kick)

The View from Needham

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
8:31
PM ET
NEEDHAM, Mass. -- Are the Needham High Rockets one of the area's most underrated squads? We'll have a much clearer answer this Saturday after the Rockets play host to No. 6 Weymouth, in what is looking like the game of the year in the Bay State's Carey Division.

We caught up with head coach David Duffy and his senior captains this afternoon, following a walkthrough practice at Memorial Park (Needham High had the day off today in observance of Rosh Hashanah).

Head coach David Duffy:



Quarterback Drew Burnett:



Tight end Mark Riley:



Fullback Mike Vespa:



Guard Peter Madson:

What We Learned: Week 2

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
5:57
PM ET
D-Y, JOHNSON ARE FOR REAL
In the moments following Dennis-Yarmouth’s thrilling 28-27 win over Cape rival Barnstable, neither team could do enough evangelizing about the talent on display before them just minutes earlier.

Of D-Y wideout Damion Johnson, first-year Barnstable head coach Chris Whidden said, “If I'm a college coach and I'm anywhere near Cape Cod recruiting, I'm all over Damion Johnson. He's a hell of a football player.”

Of the duel between D-Y quarterback Matt Montalto and Barnstable quarterback D.J. Crook (who is inching closer to the state all-time touchdown pass record), Dolphins head coach Paul Funk sung high praises.

“You just saw three of the best players in the state, I don’t care where they’re from,” he told a group of reporters. “Montalto, Crook and Johnson. Those guys can play anywhere in the country, I’ll tell you that right now. They’re as good as anyone around.”

Minutes later outside the D-Y locker room, Montatlo was asked about Johnson’s jump-ball ability, and the senior put it bluntly: “Best one I’ve ever seen in high school. I’ll put it down, I think he’s the best wide receiver in high school football right now. That’s what I’ll say about him, yeah.”

All the talk is justified, though. The 6-foot-2 Johnson, with his seven catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns, showed what makes him one of the region’s more difficult players to defend with his adjustments in the game. Early on, the Red Raiders pressed Johnson heavily and brought safeties over the top; Johnson merely muscled his way to jump balls on deep fades. When they backed off the line of scrimmage, Johnson beat them with crisp comeback routes on the sideline.

“That’s what’s so difficult about Damion," Montalto said. "When you press him, right away I saw him getting off the press – he’s so good with his hands, his feet, everything – he got off the press and got over the top of them, when we’re giving him fades. And then they finally loosened up, so we came back to our crossing routes, same thing, he’s just as good at that as he is with the deep ball.”

Said Johnson, “They kinda loosened up on me a bit, but me and Matt have had our timing down since the summer. We worked on it all summer, preseason, everything.”

LINE KEEPS ROLLING ALONG
Coming into this season, questions surrounded New Bedford and how the Whalers would get along without Lance Burlingame anchoring their offensive and defensive lines. While you can never hope to replace a player like that, the Whalers have shown they'll be just fine this season. Without bookends Burlingame and Janny DosReis, guard Darian Sousa-Bizarro has moved over to tackle and provides senior leadership on the offensive side of the ball.

On defense, New Bedford showed they have multiple players ready to step up and make up for the pass rush Burlingame accounted for. In Saturday's 41-20 win over Silver Lake, the Whalers' big men put on a show with Carl Santos picking up three sacks, while Ricky Moraes had two of his own. Junior Tyler Arena is also a player worth keeping tabs on and was disruptive force against both the running and the passing rhythym of the Lakers' offense.

“They’re doing well,” Whalers head coach Dennis Golden said of the group. “Coach [Nick] Salmon and Coach [Marc] Hayes are doing a great job with them every day. They’re giving a good effort in practice. The kids are coming and playing hard consistently. It’s a good thing, it’s a good situation.”

TANNERS SHUT DOWN BILLERICA
While the number of true upsets in Week 2 paled in comparison to the wild Week 1 slate, among the more suprising results of the young season was Woburn's 12-7 triumph over Billerica.

After suffering a 25-point loss to Acton-Boxborough in Week 1, the Tanners bounced back, particuarly on defense to shut down the Indians.

While Billerica quarterback Nick LaSpada got his share of yards through the air and the ground, hovering near 200 all-purpose yards, here's betting Woburn head coach Rocky Nelson would take that result all day, every day. In addition, the Tanners got the big play on offense they need early on with Chucky Ortiz, a legitimate Mr. Football Award candidate, flashing his speed on a 71-yard run that set up his 2-yard touchdown run in the first.

From there, all the Tanners had to do was dig in.

“We tried to change up our fronts and our coverages and send people to try to confuse [LaSpada],” Nelson said of Woburn's defensive game plan. “We were in his face and he didn’t take a broken play and take it to the house. We contained him. We were sending our outside linebackers sometimes right from the line, sometimes inside. We had some line stunts that we put in that kept pressure on and we didn’t let him scramble and beat us like he did a year ago.”

ONE AMAZING CATCH
Skip to the 30-second mark of this highlight package from Friday night’s Mansfield-Needham game, and tell us Mark Riley isn’t one of the most underrated tight ends around.



"That's one of the nicest catches I've ever seen, that I can remember," Needham head coach David Duffy said. "That was tremendous. He's very fast and instinctive, he's more of an Aaron Hernandez type of tight end, we'll split him out wide sometimes. He's a matchup nightmare for teams, but he can also block."

Needham has sent just one player to a Division 1 school in three decades – Eric Johnson, former Yale tight end and seven-year NFL veteran (and also new beau of Jessica Simpson). For sake of technical terms, we’re not counting current Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka, who played soccer at Needham then Middlebury before walking on to North Carolina State as a grad student.

But in this year’s Needham squad – an underrated one based on the run it gave Mansfield on Friday – they might have two. Quarterback Drew Burnett already claims an offer from Bryant, while Riley (brother of WEEI announcer Mike Riley, a good friend of ours here at ESPNBoston) has been seeing interest anywhere from the Ivy and Patriot Leagues down to the NESCAC. He's also a returning All-American in lacrosse, and may head down that route for college.

A few more catches like that, and maybe this story changes.

And by the way, Duffy isn't afraid to make the comparison to the future Mr. Jessica Simpson.

"He reminds me of Eric Johnson -- he could do anything," Duffy said of Riley. "The kid can catch, receive, run, catch a block, anything you ask of him to do he can do it."

FROM THE BIZARRE FILE...
Maybe there’s just a proverbial rain cloud hanging over Baker Street, or maybe Catholic Memorial is just encountering bad luck. Either way, this was hardly the start they expected after coming in as the preseason No. 4 in our statewide MIAA poll.

One week after suffering a surprise shutout upset at the hands of unranked Marshfield, the Knights took a 14-0 second-quarter lead over Connecticut Class LL runner-up Trumbull, only to have two of the four lights go out at the stadium. The two teams hit the locker room early for halftime, on the suggestion from officials that they shut all four lights off and try to reboot from there.

And as luck would have it, the lights never came back on, and Trumbull made the three-hour trek back to Connecticut. Reached Monday morning, CM head coach and athletic director said a decision hasn’t been made on how this game will go down in the books.

Three weeks, one game. Here’s the good news: the Knights will be playing a Saturday afternoon game in Shrewsbury against St. John’s. And like every other week, they stand a good chance of probably coming away victorious.

Then again, nothing has gone as planned so far.

WEEK 2 CHAMPIONSHIP
It's hard to tab a second-week game as having playoff implications, but Saturday's South Coast Conference battle between Dighton-Rehoboth and Apponequet is about as close as you'll get. The Falcons and Lakers were the co-champions of the SCC last season, but Apponequet is looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.

The teams were very much evenly matched and resemble each other in many ways with both teams featuring a dual threat at running back with D-R's Adam Benvie and Bryan Rocha and Apponequet's Nate Michael and Zach Nanfelt.

So did D-R take a step closer to their third straight postseason appearance with a 21-7 win?

“I guess this is what they’d say is the first big game in the league,” D-R head coach Dave Driscoll told correspondent Adam Kurkjian. “The way the schedule’s been it’s happened early the last three years. As a result, you get a little bit of a leg up if you win the game. It certainly doesn’t mean anything other than you have a win because you have to play the whole season, but it’s nice to win.

ESPN Boston's Preseason All-State Team

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
6:55
AM ET
Below is our Preseason MIAA All-State Football Team, along with some other players to watch. Returning All-Staters are bolded.

OFFENSE

QB – Nick LaSpada, Sr., Billerica
QB – Jonathan DiBiaso, Sr., Everett
QB – Brandon Walsh, Sr., North Andover
RB – Andrew Coke, Sr., Andover
RB – Preston Cooper, Sr., BC High
RB – George Craan, Sr., Concord-Carlisle
RB – Sacoy Malone, Sr., Springfield Central
TE – Jameson McShea, Sr., BC High
TE – Lucas Bavaro, Jr., St. John’s Prep
WR – Khary Bailey-Smith, Sr., Weymouth
WR – Efrain Montalvo, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
WR – Don Webber, Sr., Duxbury
WR – A.J. Baker, Sr., Swampscott
OL – Tyler Loring, Sr., Catholic Memorial
OL – Peter Salem, Sr., Dracut
OL – Ryan Anger, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
OL – T.J. Leeman, Sr., Andover
OL – John Montelus, Jr., Everett
ATH – Armani Reeves, Sr., Catholic Memorial
ATH – Karl Sery, Sr., Hudson
K – Jules Murphy, Sr., Xaverian

DEFENSE

DL – Ralph Jonathas, Sr., Everett
DL – Dino Hyppolite, Sr., Brockton
DL – Brendan Battles-Santos, Sr., Nauset
DL – Brett Harrington, Sr., Chelmsford
LB – Tim Joy, Sr., Chelmsford
LB – Max McDaniel, Sr., Lexington
LB – Vondell Langston, Sr., Everett
LB – Max Randall, Sr., Duxbury
LB – Buck McCarthy, Sr., Everett
LB – Camren Williams, Sr., Catholic Memorial
DB – Jesse Monteiro, Sr., Brockton
DB – Reilly Naton, Sr., Duxbury
DB – Casey DeAndrade, Sr., East Bridgewater
DB – Obi Melifonwu, Sr., Grafton
RET – Chucky Ortiz, Sr., Woburn

Watch List:
Chris Burke, Sr. LB, Gloucester
Drew Burnett, Sr. QB, Needham
Chris Calvanese, Sr. QB, Xaverian
Luke Catarius, Jr. LB, BC High
D.J. Crook, Sr. QB, Barnstable
A.J. Doyle, Sr. QB, Catholic Memorial
Donovan Henry, Sr. RB/DB, Catholic Memorial
Kurt Hunziker, Sr. RB/LB, Masconomet
Maurice Hurst Jr., Jr. DL, Xaverian
Damion Johnson, Sr. WR, Dennis-Yarmouth
Matt King, Sr. RB/LB, Scituate
Jake Lazarus, Sr. QB, Longmeadow
Matt Montalto, Sr. QB, Dennis-Yarmouth
Paul Mroz, Sr. QB, Brockton
Terry Norris, Sr. RB, Longmeadow
Chuddy Nwachukwu, Jr. OL, Dighton-Rehoboth
Marcus Odiah, Jr. RB, Burlington
Matt O’Keefe, Sr. QB, Duxbury
Quinton Perkins, Sr. RB, Fitchburg
Joe Previte, Jr. OL/DL, Brockton
Bartley Regan, Sr. QB, BC High
Charles Ruffin, Sr. RB, King Philip
Nick Schlatz, Sr. RB/LB, Bridgewater-Raynham
Mike Walsh, Sr. QB/S, Swampscott

Needham-Wellesley lives up to rivalry

November, 25, 2010
11/25/10
7:35
PM ET
NEEDHAM, Mass. -- The 123rd meeting of the two oldest public high school rivals in the country added one of its most exciting episodes this year with Needham coming from behind to win 20-17 in overtime and tie its best regular season record in school history.

The Needham Rockets and Wellesley Raiders entered the game with two of the best defensive records in the Bay State Conference and the first half showed that. The only score of the half came from Wellesley’s Michael Janey on a 2-yard run, untouched, up the middle. It was Janey’s seventh touchdown of the season and the Raiders took a 7-0 score to the half.

The second half had one of the most bizarre starts to a half this season for either team. Dan Pierce recovered an onside kick for Needham, and the Rockets seemed to be in business with excellent field position. But a rare fumble from Needham quarterback Kevin Brennan ended the drive two plays later.

The Raiders went three and out on the ensuing drive, but another Rockets fumble on the punt return from Ian Riley gave Wellesley the ball back on the Needham 36-yard line. The Raiders fumbled on the following play, only to see the Rockets fumble again on their next snap, creating an inauspicious streak of three lost fumbles on three consecutive plays.

That time, however, the Raiders made the Rockets pay with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Matt Pini (his fourth of the season) to Brett Mongeau, and the Raiders were ahead, 14-0, heading into the fourth quarter.

On the first play of the fourth, Wellesley had a chance to seal the game. On fourth and three, Needham went for it through the air and Wellesley’s co-captain Duncan Johnson dropped an interception with nothing but an open field in front of him.

The Rockets changed things on their next possession and they would get on the board on that drive. Drew Burnett came in at quarterback and starting signal-caller Kevin Brennan split out wide.

“I’ll do anything to help the team,” said Brennan about the switch, “catching passes feels great too, Drew [Burnett] was doing a great job.”

Burnett then threw his fifth touchdown pass of the season for 21 yards to junior tight end Mark Riley. The touchdown reception was Riley’s seventh in seven games.

“We had some big plays,” said Needham head coach Dave Duffy, “Drew came in and lit a fire under us, Kevin [Brennan] had some huge catches, things just snowballed.”

After Needham’s defense forced another three-and-out, the Rockets tied the game with a Sam Nickles' 6-yard touchdown run with 5:23 left on the clock. The drive was set up through the air but ended with Nickles plowing threw the offensive line.

“We called a '20 man line,'”Nickles described afterward, “I followed Stenny [Will Stenberg] into the end zone, I just followed my blocking, walked right in.”

The Rockets had the ball last in regulation, and the final play of the game had both fans holding their breath. Burnett took the snap at Wellesley’s 27 just as the clock expired, he scrambled out of the pocket looking for a receiver but was unable to pull the trigger. Instead, he ran 17 yards before being caught by a pack of Wellesley players.

The teams headed into overtime for the second time in four years.

The Raiders had the ball first in the overtime period. On third down, Pini threw a bullet to Sam Lawrence over the middle and in the end zone. But the pass was broken up at the last second by Dan Pierce and Wellesley had to settle for a field goal leaving the Rockets a chance to get the win.

Brennan was put back in at quarterback and led his team to victory in overtime for the second time this season. On third and 12, Brennan scrambled right and hit Mark Riley cutting across the end zone. Riley slid across for the catch, ending the game 20-17 and coming from a fourth-quarter 14-0 deficit.

“After I made the catch I saw everyone running over, and it was wild, it was crazy, but it was great to get the win for the seniors,” Riley said after the game. “At halftime our captains said to us, this is the last time we’ll ever be playing together, they said to us they want the underclassmen to step up, we stepped up and I’m glad they got to go out with a victory.”

Not too many quarterbacks get to end their high school career with a touchdown pass, but Brennan was able to so finishing with 26 over his two years as a varsity starter.

“To get a win against Wellesley, on this field, with this group of seniors, it’s unbelievable,” said a humble Brennan after the game. “It felt like slow motion that last play, I saw Mark threw it and I couldn’t even believe it was the end of the game.”

Needham’s poor play in the first half and the fourth quarter comeback was on the minds of all the players after the game.

“To play that bad in the first half and come out in the second half and give it our all is unbelievable, I can’t explain it,” Needham captain Will Stenberg said.

“We’re a second-half team,” added senior captain Rob Timmerman, “we’re very resilient and don’t stop until we’re in the end zone and we have the victory.”

Despite losing their starting quarterback, Adam Farina, Wellesley finished the season 7-4, while Needham finished the season 9-2, tying the best regular-season record in school history, previously set by the 2003 team.

The Needham victory brings the all-time series to 59-55-9 in favor of Wellesley.

Wellesley 7 0 7 0 3 -- 17
Needham 0 0 0 14 6 -- 20

First Quarter

W- Janey 2 yard run (Johnson Kick)

Third Quarter

W- Mongeau 7 yard TD pass from Pini (Johnson Kick)

Fourth Quarter

N- M. Riley 20 yard TD pass from Burnett (Wong Kick)
N- Nickels 6 yard TD run (Wong Kick)

OT
W- Johnson FG
N – M. Riley 11 yard TD pass from Brennan

Versatility keys Needham over Framingham

October, 30, 2010
10/30/10
2:20
AM ET
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

Second Quarter
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

Fourth Quarter
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

Colarusso Bros. fuel Weymouth past Needham

October, 2, 2010
10/02/10
1:06
AM ET
WEYMOUTH -- Dylan and Aussie Colarusso swear they're related. If you watched them run with the ball, you'd never know it.

The pair of Weymouth running backs shredded Needham's defense to lead the Wildcats to a 26-0 victory Friday night, and each did it with his own unique style.

Older brother Dylan, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior cocaptain, ran through tackles and powered over defenders to the tune of 114 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. Aussie, a 5-foot-10, 170-pound sophomore, used his quickness and vision to elude the Rockets for 111 total yards and two touchdowns.

"It's just our body types," Dylan said. "I'm a bigger guy. Aussie’s a smaller guy with more quickness. That’s how it works. A little smash and dash."

On Weymouth’s first play from scrimmage, Needham immediately understood the "smash" element of the Colarusso equation.

After the Rockets fumbled a handoff on the game's second play from scrimmage, Weymouth (4-0) recovered on the Needham 11-yard line and fed Dylan right away. On the Wildcats' first play, he plowed through the defensive line, broke a tackle and fell into the end zone.

"Dylan is a man between the tackles," Weymouth coach Kavin Mackin said. "He has the speed to get away, but he’s our muscle guy without a doubt."

The Rockets' first failed drive was a harbinger of things to come. Needham (3-1) finished the game with four turnovers, not including two turnovers on downs. Just two and a half minutes after their red-zone fumble in the first quarter, they were stopped again when Rockets quarterback Kevin Brennan was intercepted by Aussie Colarusso.

Brennan, who had led Needham to an average of 32.6 points in its first three games, threw only one more pass on the night. He was forced from the game at the end of the first quarter with a back muscle injury that has plagued him for the past few weeks, according to Needham coach David Duffy.

Brennan was hit hard by Weymouth senior cocaptain Jesse Toomey during his last pass attempt, a third-down incompletion, and the signal-caller remained on the ground for a moment after the play.

"Weymouth's defensive line is very good, so I give them a lot of credit," Duffy said. "We had a lot of turnovers and our quarterback got hurt, but we have to get better play from our offensive line."

Weymouth's ensuing possession ended when Wildcats quarterback and cocaptain Mitch Temple (3-of-8, 43 yards) found a sliding Aussie Colarusso 20 yards away in the front corner of the end zone to make the score 13-0.

Needham’s backup quarterback, junior Drew Burnett (5-of-19, 58 yards), did his best to get his offense in sync, but the rain and the Weymouth defense was too much to handle. Burnett was intercepted twice, once by Aussie Colarusso and once by Khary Bailey-Smith, and Needham never got inside Weymouth's 20-yard line.

The Wildcats' offense continued to feed off of their defense when Rob Barrus blocked a Needham punt one minute into the fourth quarter. Dylan Colarusso followed with a 36-yard scamper and a 1-yard touchdown plunge to make the score 19-0.

Aussie’s second interception came with just less than five minutes left in the contest. Aussie (6 carries, 91 yards) then made good on his own turnover and sealed the game with a 44-yard touchdown run.

"They're big and they're strong," Duffy said of the Colarussos. "You have to tackle them low and wrap up or else you’re not going to be successful."

The win puts undefeated Weymouth in good position within the Bay State Carey Division race, but the Wildcats understand it's too early in the season to celebrate.

"This is not a league title tonight," Mackin said. "It certainly puts us in a good spot, but we've got to continue to work because there are other good teams here."

WEYMOUTH 26, NEEDHAM 0
NEE 0 0 0 0 --- 0
WEY 13 0 0 13 --- 26

First quarter
Dylan Colarusso 11 run (Kevin White kick)
Aussie Colarusso 20 pass from Mitch Temple (kick failed)

Third quarter
D. Colarusso 1 run (rush failed)
A. Colarusso 44 run (White kick)

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