MANSFIELD, Mass. – Joe Montana had Jerry Rice. Tom Brady had Wes Welker.
Kyle Wisnieski has Brendan Hill.
The latter of the above trio is a major reason why No. 1 Mansfield remained undefeated Friday night and out-gunned No. 4 Needham, 42-35, in a Division 2-South semifinal game.
Wisnieski completed a mind-boggling 14-of-16 passes (87.5 percent) for 216 yards and four touchdowns.
Hill caught seven of those passes for 152 yards and three scores.
“It’s obviously been a lot of hard work,” said Wisnieski. “As a freshman, (Hill) played on jayvees so I’ve been throwing to him for three years. We’ve played in passing leagues in the summer … coming out on the turf and just working out in the summer. It’s been a lot of reps and a lot of time has been put in and it’s paying off now.
“I figure this goes back to the chemistry we have between us. I know he’s going to get open at some point for me. I know he’s obviously a mismatch nightmare at 6-5. I know he’s eventually going to get open for me so I know if I can buy enough time, if he’s not open initially, I know I’ll be able to find him eventually.”
If there was one play that underscored the chemistry that exists between Wisnieski and Hill, as well as the confidence coach Mike Redding has in this duo, it was the one that came late in the fourth quarter with the Hornets nursing a 42-35 lead.
Mansfield faced a second-and-10 on the Rockets’ 38 and virtually everybody this side of the Berkshire Mountains expected the Hornets to run the ball and take more time off the clock.
Instead, Wisnieski completed a 29-yard pass to Hill for a first down, which enabled Mansfield to run out the clock and advance to next week’s sectional finals.
“I think their whole defense was expecting a run,” said Wisnieski. “I think Coach [Mike] Redding recognized that. It was a good play call by him and it worked.”
Even though the Hornets stung the Rockets en route to a seemingly comfortable 35-7 lead late in the third quarter, Mansfield needed everything to work down the stretch because it was unable to stop Needham running back Mike Panepinto.
Panepinto torched Mansfield for 182 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries and, after the Hornets’ Miguel Villar-Perez (17-123 yards, 2 TD) scored on a one-yard dive for a 35-7 lead, returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards for a score which sparked a Needham rally.
“We thought we had it kind of put away at 35-7 but we made the mistake of kicking to Mike [Panepinto] and he hurt us with the return,” Redding said in a massive understatement. “It seemed like all of a sudden their juices started flowing. They played good ‘D.’ They score again. They get the onside kick.
“I thought both teams showed unbelievable character. A lot of teams would have quit at 35-7. They kept battling. Then, all the momentum went their way and we sucked it up and found a way to get a score to get the lead back to 14 (42-28), which we needed. It was great playoff football and a lot of great efforts on both sides of the ball.”
The sequence Redding referred to went as follows.
After Panepinto’s kickoff return, quarterback Ryan Charter (8 of 14, 166 yards, 2 TD) threw a 68-yard touchdown bomb to Mike Elcock (6-148 yards) on the first play of the final quarter which pulled Needham within 35-21.
Then, Needham successfully executed an onside kick with Carter Christensen smothering Auggie Coll’s kick at Mansfield’s 44.
Four plays player, Panepinto broke one tackle and ran 13 yards for a touchdown that sliced Mansfield’s lead to 35-28.
After the ensuing kickoff, Wisnieski cranked up his right arm and heaved a 51-yard touchdown pass to Hill with 5:51 left which gave Mansfield a 42-28 lead.
Needham needed just 2:42 to get back on the board when Charter threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Elcock.
But after Wisnieski completed that 29-yard pass to Hill, Mansfield fans finally were able to exhale.
“I’m glad we’ve got Brendan Hill catching the football for us,” said Redding. “Throw it near him and he’s going to make a play.
“Kyle’s a cool customer. Most teams would have run the ball (on that aforementioned second-and-10 play). But we just have so much faith in our guys to be able to throw it late in the game. I thought that got us a big first down which didn’t let them get the ball back one more time.”
MANSFIELD 42, NEEDHAM 35
Needham (7-2) 7-0-7-21 - 35
Mansfield (9-0) 14-21-0-7 - 42
M – Miguel Villar-Perez 19 pass from Kyle Wisnieski (Alex Thompson kick)
N – Mike Panepinto 76 run (Auggie Coll kick)
M – Villar-Perez 1 run (Thompson kick)
M – Brendan Hill 18 pass from Wisnieski (Thompson kick)
M – Hill 25 pass from Wisnieski (Thompson kick)
M – Villar-Perez 1 run (Thompson kick)
N – Panepinto 91 kickoff return (Coll kick)
N – Mike Elcock 66 pass from Ryan Charter (Coll kick)
N – Panepinto 13 run (Coll kick)
M – Hill 51 pass from Wisnieski (Thompson kick)
N – Elcock 13 pass from Charter (Coll kick)