Needham - In the previous 122 meetings between the Needham and Wellesley football teams on Thanksgiving, the game has ended in a tie on nine occasions.
With the overtime period in Massachusetts high school football being something that was added in recent times, it’s pretty safe to say that there has never been an ending like Thursday’s in the history of the longest public school rivalry in the country.
The Rockets overcame a 14-0 deficit entering the fourth quarter to tie it and send the game to the extra session. After the Raiders kicked a field goal on their possession starting at the 10-yard line in OT, Needham senior quarterback Kevin Brennan hit junior tight end Mark Riley in the corner of the end zone to give the Rockets a dramatic 20-17 victory at Memorial Field.
“It was a great finish to a great game,” said Brennan. “I just saw (Riley) in the corner of the end zone and he made a great catch and we got the win. There’s no better feeling than this right now.”
Needham closes the season tied for the most wins in school history at 9-2 while Wellesley finishes at 7-4.
“Up until the fourth quarter we were able to do what we wanted to do,” said Wellesley coach Bill Tracey. “But Needham played well down the stretch and made the plays when it counted.”
Wellesley wasn’t able to do much with its possession in overtime and had to settle for a 32-yard field goal by Tucker Morgan to go up 17-14. Faced with 3rd-and-12, Brennan rolled out and found Riley in the right back corner of the end zone for the score as the Needham student body rushed the field and set off a wild celebration.
“It’s crazy. I’ve been thinking about this game basically for my whole life. I never thought I’d get the chance to get the winning touchdown,” said Riley, who had five catches for 61 yards and a pair of TD’s. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
The Raiders went on top in with 4:04 left in the first quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run by senior Michael Janey. Wellesley’s defense dominated in the first half and completely limited the dangerous Brennan. Needham had just 6 yards passing and 25 yards rushing as the Raiders had a 7-0 advantage at intermission.
Wellesley extended its lead with 4:27 left in the third when junior quarterback Matt Pini (7-of-14, 73 yards) hit senior Brett Mongeau for a 7-yard scoring pass and a 14-0 advantage.
With Brennan (3-of-10, 18 yards) still struggling to get the Rockets’ offense going, Needham head coach Dave Duffy inserted Drew Burnett. The junior revitalized the offense on 8-of-16 passing for 161 yards while Brennan moved to the slot and had a pair of catches for 45 yards and 33 yards rushing in the second half.
“We’ve been using both guys most of the year,” said Duffy. “We didn’t do it during the last two games of the season because we got out to big leads and we didn’t want to run it up on them. But we knew Drew could throw.”
The Rockets finally broke through early in the fourth quarter when Burnett connected with Riley on a 20-yard score with 9:04 remaining. After the Raiders were forced to punt, the Rockets came back with a 6-yard touchdown run by senior captain Sam Nickles and senior Nick Wong’s extra point tied it at 14-14 with 5:23 remaining.
With the field compressed to 10 yards in overtime, Needham went back to Brennan, who is more of a running quarterback, and the senior captain closed his career in style.
“I’ll play any position. It doesn’t matter. It’s a team game,” said Brennan. “As long as we get the win that’s all I care about. This is by far the best win we’ve ever had.”