WRENTHAM, Mass. - In the opening quarter, Needham ran 20 plays and had the ball for all but 16 seconds, but somehow found itself down 7-0 to top seed King Philip.
It set the tone for a game in which KP (9-0) managed only two first downs, both of them on touchdowns, and only ran five plays in Needham territory prior to the fourth quarter, but came away with a 28-0 victory in Friday night’s Division 2 South semifinal at Macktaz Field.
After the game, Warriors coach Brian Lee embraced the perception that KP knows how to win ugly.
“We’re scrapping it out,” he said. “You take a look at our guys and we’re not much to look at -- that’s what we always talk about -- but we’re finding ways to get it done.” With a chuckle, he added, “Somehow we’re still playing…I don’t know.”
The Rockets (6-3) returned the opening kickoff to the 20. Over the next nine minutes of game time, Needham marched all the way inside the King Philip 10-yard-line on a drive that included two third down conversions and a fourth-down sneak by quarterback Sam Foley (10-26, 86 yards).
Foley, who transferred back to Needham this season from Milton Academy, started with an unusual cadence that seemed to have the Warriors jumping early and off-balance. The junior hit Cliff Kurker three times on the drive and then tight end Ryan Walsh down the middle for 19 yards. Senior running back Jack Roque (nine carries, 75 yards) then ran 28 yards on a quick handoff up the middle.
That carry placed the ball at the KP nine. But the Warriors defensive line settled down and stuffed Jared Sklar for a loss, dropped Kurker for a loss on a shovel pass, and Roque for no gain. With 1:35 left in the opening quarter, Foley’s fourth down pass was incomplete and the Rockets gave the ball to KP.
Sixteen seconds and one play later and it was 7-0. Senior running back Mark Glebus took the hand-off, bounced to the right, and raced 87 yards to put the Warriors ahead.
“We had shots to score and we didn’t execute as well as we needed to,” said Needham coach Dave Duffy. “Our defense kept us in it as long as they could, but we just misfired a little bit and of course King Philip’s defense is so good that you have to capitalize on every opportunity that you get.”
Neither team could get anything going offensively. KP was in control of the line of scrimmage with Chris Winbourne and Peter Garrity, in particular, bottling up the Needham running game and pressuring Foley. The Rockets also played well on the defensive side of the ball with Derek Child and Joe Gowetski standing strong against the KP power rushing attack.
Lee said, “The cadence had us a little off and we were jumping, anxious to get after it, so we got caught a couple of times. After that first series, I thought we really settled down and played ‘D.’ It kept us in the game.”
Duffy praised his defense for keeping the Rockets in the game as long it could. About the Warriors defense, he explained, “They were moving around, blitzing from different angles, and throwing different defenses at you. We had a little trouble getting going, but that was to be expected -- I knew they would be good defensively.”
It stayed 7-0 into the third quarter, when a bad snap over Foley’s head was recovered by Brian Donahue at the Rockets five. On the next play KP quarterback John DeLuca powered in a five-yard sneak to double the lead.
“That was a gift,” said Duffy, “and we could’ve recovered it but they did and then punched it in. They took advantage of our mistakes and we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”
Lee added, “We weren’t moving the ball. We couldn’t do anything and all of a sudden we had that momentum, they let down I think a little, and that was the play of the game.”
On its next possession, the Warriors finally put together a sustained drive. A five-yard run by Glebus (16 carries, 158 yards) on the second play of the fourth quarter earned an elusive first down and keep a drive alive that would take 18 plays and cover 85 yards to put the game away. After DeLuca converted a fourth down by the nose of the ball, Glebus finished the drive with a seven-yard score.
Foley was intercepted by Jake Patrick on fourth down on Needham’s next possession. Three plays later, Stephen Eaton (seven carries, 80 yards) went straight up the middle for 66 yards to add some gloss to the final score.
With the victory, King Philip advances to the D3 Southwest final to face No. 2 seed Marshfield, which defeated Natick 55-20 on Friday.