You'd think with a matching record, Needham would come with as much hype as their opponent in Saturday's Division 1 Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium, BC High.
At 9-3, they're not even close.
The Needham Rockets are ranked No. 12 in the Globe Top 20, nine spots behind the BC High Eagles at No. 3. The reasons for which are simple: BC High's losses were to top ranked teams in New Jersey (DePaul Catholic and St. Peter's Prep) and to the state's unanimous No. 1 team, Everett.
Needham, a team that was in Division 1A last season (the Bay State Carey flip flopped with the Greater Boston League, much to Everett's chagrin) lost to Mansfield, Natick and Framingham.
But when it came down to it, the Rockets won big games to get to this point. And they've overcome adversity while doing so, just like BC High. Senior quarterback Drew Burnett went down with an ankle injury against Milton Oct. 15, leaving the team's quarterback duties in the hands of sophomore Ryan Charter. And then running back Ian Riley (10 touchdowns) went down against Natick Oct. 28 with a shoulder injury.
If you didn't know any better, you'd think Needham was decimated. But the Rockets have mobilized around Charter, who has shown poise, and coach Dave Duffy and his staff have found ways to get his team in the end zone with regularity. They've put up 42 points in each of their last two games. The Rockets walloped Wellesley 42-18 with Charter throwing four touchdown passes.
"Getting to this point, we thought we'd get here maybe at the beginning of the year because we were so good and the seniors were so good," Duffy said. "And then we had some injuries. We were worried that the wheels were going to fall off the wagon. But the junior class rallied on the defense and the seniors rallied around the new quarterback. We miss Drew Burnett and Ian Riley greatly but the kids rallied and we had some big wins at the end of the season to put us here."
Charter, Duffy says, is doing a great job after coming in for Burnett.
"He's doing excellent," Duffy said. "He's managing the game very well. His throws are spot on. The receivers are helping him out by getting open. And the line is giving him protection. So everything is working out. And he's been doing a great job. He's very poised. If he makes a mistake it doesn't matter. He just goes back to the next play and does a good job. And he hasn't really made many mistakes, mentally or physically. So he's learning. I think this is his sixth game starting. As much as we miss Drew, Ryan's doing a great job."
Beating BC High, however, will be a complicated task given the talents on the Eagles team and the size of the offensive and defensive lines.
"Our defense is going to have to stop the base running game," Duffy said. "We have an experienced secondary. I know [Bartley Regan] can throw very well, but if we don't stop that base running game we're going to be in for a long afternoon. On offense, if we can get some first downs and keep the ball out of their hands, that'll help us too."
BC High, for its part, is not taking Needham lightly.
"They have real good skill guys, they have a stingy defense," said BC High coach Jon Bartlett. "So we have to get pressure on the [quarterback]. He's been throwing the ball well recently. We need to get pressure on him, don't give him time. And then offensively, we have to establish the run and be able to pass as well."
Said BC High captain and Temple recruit Jameson McShea: "They pull a lot, so our defensive line has to hold on the line of scrimmage. They like to pass a lot so our secondary has to be lock down."
Key for BC High is getting the ball in the hands of senior running back Deontae Ramey-Doe. He's been a catalyst for the Eagles since last year's Catholic Conference offensive player of the year Preston Cooper went down with a broken ankle against Everett Oct. 22.
"Losing Preston was a big loss," Bartlett said. "But as we told the guys, we have some other good players as well. And we rallied. We told the guys we could either feel sorry for ourselves and not play well the rest of the year, or we can rally and play as a team and use that as motivation. The kids have responded really well with the loss of Preston."
Needham, in turn, will try and inject some imagination on offense to matchup. They'll be looking to get the ball to receiver and tight end Mark Riley, who has 15 touchdowns on the year.
"We have some new stuff in for [Riley]," Duffy said. "We'll try to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers as much as we can. The offensive coordinator has been doing a great job doing that. We're probably a little overmatched size wise up front. We have to come up with creative things to try to balance it."
The 6 p.m. matchup at Gillette Stadium will be the marquee Super Bowl in a day full of championships. It's particularly special for Needham, which had never won a playoff game prior to Tuesday.
"We're excited. We won the Bay State league outright for the first time in over 40 years," Duffy said. "We won our first playoff game. Now we're standing here at Gillette. And I think the kids are gonna be excited. We're glad to be here. We've realized how hard we've worked to get here. So we're going to try to make the best of it while we're here. I was telling the kids at the banquet last Sunday, the greatest thing I can say is 'I'll see you tomorrow at practice.' "
Several reporters and editors contribute updates, news and analysis to the High School Sports Blog.
- Bob Holmes: A Reading resident (Go Rockets!) and Boston College graduate, Holmes is the Boston Globe High School Sports Editor. We remind you now that his weekly picks are often made in jest so everyone just calm down when he picks against Everett for 11 straight weeks. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHolmes.
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- Liz Torres | @etorres446 | Girls hockey
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