Rockets hit next level
Charter helps guide Needham into playoffs
WELLESLEY - Needham sophomore quarterback Ryan Charter made his fifth varsity start yesterday, but he played like a seasoned veteran as he led the Rockets past Wellesley, 42-18, in the nation’s longest-running high school football rivalry.
Charter was 8 of 11 for 165 yards and four touchdowns to lead No. 18 Needham (8-3) in the 124th game between the schools. The victory also vaulted the Rockets to a share of the Bay State League Carey Division title and a playoff berth in their first season in Division 1. Needham will play New Bedford next week.
“It’s easy to play well with this group of kids,’’ Charter said. “I’m really lucky to be playing with the kids I’m playing with.’’
Charter was pressed into action after senior quarterback Drew Burnett broke his ankle Oct. 15 against Milton.
“[Charter] is a cool customer,’’ said Needham coach David Duffy. “He doesn’t get rattled. He’s kind of like Drew in that aspect. If something good happens, it doesn’t bother him, he just comes in the next play and gets back to it. He’s doing real well.’’
Charter threw touchdown passes on three consecutive possessions in the first half to build a double-digit lead. Senior tight end Mark Riley got behind the Raiders secondary and reeled in a 61-yard pass to give Needham a 14-6 lead with 30 seconds left in the first quarter. Then, four plays after Needham recovered an onside kick, Charter hit senior Dan Pierce on a swing pass for a 35-yard score.
Wellesley (2-9) responded with a 71-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Matt Pini to sophomore Matt Dziama, but the Rockets answered right back. Charter orchestrated a 10-play drive that ended with a 20-yard reception in the corner of the end zone by junior receiver Nico Panepinto, making the score 28-12.
“We all knew he had a really good arm,’’ Panepinto said of Charter. “He’s really talented and I just think as the season’s gone on, he’s gotten really comfortable in the offense. We showed that today.’’
Panepinto had three scores on the day. His second touchdown reception came on a 28-yard post pattern that made the score 35-18 with 4:44 left. He also scored on a 17-yard reverse in the first quarter, breaking multiple tackles along the way to give the Rockets a 7-6 lead.
Wellesley cut Needham’s lead to 28-18 in the third quarter on a 16-yard touchdown run by Alex Pernokas, but Needham’s defense clamped down immediately thereafter. Needham junior Ronny Rosser had three interceptions on the day. He returned his third pick 50 yards for a touchdown.