NEEDHAM, Mass. -- The 123rd meeting of the two oldest public high school rivals in the country added one of its most exciting episodes this year with Needham coming from behind to win 20-17 in overtime and tie its best regular season record in school history.
The Needham Rockets and Wellesley Raiders entered the game with two of the best defensive records in the Bay State Conference and the first half showed that. The only score of the half came from Wellesley’s Michael Janey on a 2-yard run, untouched, up the middle. It was Janey’s seventh touchdown of the season and the Raiders took a 7-0 score to the half.
The second half had one of the most bizarre starts to a half this season for either team. Dan Pierce recovered an onside kick for Needham, and the Rockets seemed to be in business with excellent field position. But a rare fumble from Needham quarterback Kevin Brennan ended the drive two plays later.
The Raiders went three and out on the ensuing drive, but another Rockets fumble on the punt return from Ian Riley gave Wellesley the ball back on the Needham 36-yard line. The Raiders fumbled on the following play, only to see the Rockets fumble again on their next snap, creating an inauspicious streak of three lost fumbles on three consecutive plays.
That time, however, the Raiders made the Rockets pay with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Matt Pini (his fourth of the season) to Brett Mongeau, and the Raiders were ahead, 14-0, heading into the fourth quarter.
On the first play of the fourth, Wellesley had a chance to seal the game. On fourth and three, Needham went for it through the air and Wellesley’s co-captain Duncan Johnson dropped an interception with nothing but an open field in front of him.
The Rockets changed things on their next possession and they would get on the board on that drive. Drew Burnett came in at quarterback and starting signal-caller Kevin Brennan split out wide.
“I’ll do anything to help the team,” said Brennan about the switch, “catching passes feels great too, Drew [Burnett] was doing a great job.”
Burnett then threw his fifth touchdown pass of the season for 21 yards to junior tight end Mark Riley. The touchdown reception was Riley’s seventh in seven games.
“We had some big plays,” said Needham head coach Dave Duffy, “Drew came in and lit a fire under us, Kevin [Brennan] had some huge catches, things just snowballed.”
After Needham’s defense forced another three-and-out, the Rockets tied the game with a Sam Nickles' 6-yard touchdown run with 5:23 left on the clock. The drive was set up through the air but ended with Nickles plowing threw the offensive line.
“We called a '20 man line,'”Nickles described afterward, “I followed Stenny [Will Stenberg] into the end zone, I just followed my blocking, walked right in.”
The Rockets had the ball last in regulation, and the final play of the game had both fans holding their breath. Burnett took the snap at Wellesley’s 27 just as the clock expired, he scrambled out of the pocket looking for a receiver but was unable to pull the trigger. Instead, he ran 17 yards before being caught by a pack of Wellesley players.
The teams headed into overtime for the second time in four years.
The Raiders had the ball first in the overtime period. On third down, Pini threw a bullet to Sam Lawrence over the middle and in the end zone. But the pass was broken up at the last second by Dan Pierce and Wellesley had to settle for a field goal leaving the Rockets a chance to get the win.
Brennan was put back in at quarterback and led his team to victory in overtime for the second time this season. On third and 12, Brennan scrambled right and hit Mark Riley cutting across the end zone. Riley slid across for the catch, ending the game 20-17 and coming from a fourth-quarter 14-0 deficit.
“After I made the catch I saw everyone running over, and it was wild, it was crazy, but it was great to get the win for the seniors,” Riley said after the game. “At halftime our captains said to us, this is the last time we’ll ever be playing together, they said to us they want the underclassmen to step up, we stepped up and I’m glad they got to go out with a victory.”
Not too many quarterbacks get to end their high school career with a touchdown pass, but Brennan was able to so finishing with 26 over his two years as a varsity starter.
“To get a win against Wellesley, on this field, with this group of seniors, it’s unbelievable,” said a humble Brennan after the game. “It felt like slow motion that last play, I saw Mark threw it and I couldn’t even believe it was the end of the game.”
Needham’s poor play in the first half and the fourth quarter comeback was on the minds of all the players after the game.
“To play that bad in the first half and come out in the second half and give it our all is unbelievable, I can’t explain it,” Needham captain Will Stenberg said.
“We’re a second-half team,” added senior captain Rob Timmerman, “we’re very resilient and don’t stop until we’re in the end zone and we have the victory.”
Despite losing their starting quarterback, Adam Farina, Wellesley finished the season 7-4, while Needham finished the season 9-2, tying the best regular-season record in school history, previously set by the 2003 team.
The Needham victory brings the all-time series to 59-55-9 in favor of Wellesley.
Wellesley 7 0 7 0 3 -- 17
Needham 0 0 0 14 6 -- 20
W- Janey 2 yard run (Johnson Kick)
W- Mongeau 7 yard TD pass from Pini (Johnson Kick)
N- M. Riley 20 yard TD pass from Burnett (Wong Kick)
N- Nickels 6 yard TD run (Wong Kick)
W- Johnson FG
N – M. Riley 11 yard TD pass from Brennan