Needham rallies to upend Wellesley in overtime
NEEDHAM — The nation’s oldest public school rivalry once again came down to the wire yesterday as Needham’s Mark Riley hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Brennan to give the Rockets a thrilling come-from-behind 20-17 overtime win at Memorial Park.
“I just wanted to end the game right there,’’ said Brennan. “Mark Riley ran a great route and I was on the run and saw him and I just threw it and he made a great play and that was it — we won.
“It hasn’t really set in yet. It was just a great way to cap off my Rockets career. All the seniors were so happy to get a win in the last game.’’
Needham’s win brings the record in this Thanksgiving series — which began in 1882 — to 59-55-4 in favor of Wellesley.
The win was extra special to the Rocket fans considering the heartbreaking last-second loss to Wellesley last year. The Raiders converted a 2-point conversion with no time remaining to win that game by 1.
“We’ve lost a game like this before, last year, and it just feels so much better to win,’’ said Needham coach David Duffy, whose team’s 9-2 record ties the 2003 squad for the school’s all-time best.
Early in the first quarter, Wellesley put together an eight-play, 37-yard drive, highlighted by a 24-yard pass from Matt Pini to Adam Farina. That led to a 4-yard touchdown rush from Michael Janey. Tucker Morgan added the first of two PAT kicks to give Wellesley a 7-0 lead.
Needham finished the first quarter with minus-2 yards of offense and mustered only 25 total yards by halftime.
The first seven minutes of the second half probably resembled the first game between the teams 128 years ago. Sloppy play led to five turnovers, including three on consecutive plays.
Once the dust settled, Pini shredded the Rocket secondary, completing a 34-yard pass to tight end Matt Farina and capping the six-play, 37-yard drive with a 7-yard pass to Sam Lawrence to put the Raiders up, 14-0.
In the fourth quarter, Needham made a change to Drew Burnett at quarterback and spread the offense, no longer having time to run the ball. Burnett proved to be the spark the Rockets needed, as they drove 69 yards in three minutes, scoring on a 20-yard pass from Burnett to Mark Riley.
The Rockets held, and Ian Riley took the ensuing punt back 25 yards, narrowly missing going all the way. Riding the momentum, Sam Nickles punched it in from 6 yards, and Nick Wong’s second PAT tied the game at 14 with five minutes left.
In overtime, the Raiders won the toss but Needham held them to a 25-yard field goal, setting up Riley’s game-winner.