Needham pulls through at end against Mansfield
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MANSFIELD — Facing a Mansfield offense that put up 49 points a week ago, Needham coach David Duffy knew it would take big stands on defense to defeat the Hornets.
“Doug Kopcso is the defensive coordinator, and he kept changing up the defense on them and doing different things,” Duffy said. “They [Mansfield] were off by a little bit, and that’s what it took.”
A forced fumble that led to a touchdown and a final defensive stand at their 12 enabled the Rockets (2-0) to hold off Mansfield, 21-14, on Friday night.
With the score locked at 14 in the final stanza, Rockets defensive end Tim McCarthy sacked Kyle Wisnieski and jarred the ball loose, where it was scooped up by teammate Mike Manigault at the Hornets’ 31. Three plays later, halfback Mike Panepinto bounced away from three tacklers and scored on a 20-yard run to give Needham a 21-14 advantage with 7:28 remaining.
“That was a big play because it gave us momentum.” Duffy said of the turnover. “The kids were psyched to get out there on offense after that.”
In the final minutes, the Hornets (1-1) drove to the Needham 12, but were denied when a Wisnieski pass fell incomplete on fourth down to preserve the win for the visitors.
Mansfield got on the board first thanks to some improvisation on a 22-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter from Wisnieski and Mike Hershman. Wisnieski corralled a high snap and rolled to his right before finding Hershman, who sprinted toward the goal line and hauled in the 5-yard toss for a 7-0 Mansfield lead.
The Rockets evened the score in the second quarter, driving 93 yards on 17 plays. On fourth and goal from the 1, Panepinto snuck through to tie the game at 7.
Needham took a 14-7 advantage with its first drive of the third quarter, which spanned 11 plays and 69 yards. After quarterback Ryan Charter made some plays through the air, Panepinto, from a yard out, spun off a tackle and raced to the end zone.
“They brought a lot of guys up in the box on first and second down and took away our running game, and we turned it over to Ryan and he did a great job in the second half,” Duffy said.
The Hornets responded with a Hershman interception at the Mansfield 36. On the next play, Rob Rapoza spun away from a tackle and raced 64 yards for a score to make it 14-14.
“This is a big win for our program,” Duffy said. “Mansfield is a measuring stick for everybody in this state.”