Brennan, a senior captain who has been the team’s starting quarterback for the past two seasons, didn’t have a problem shifting over to play slot receiver late in Needham’s Thanksgiving Day contest against Wellesley.
And Burnett, a rifle-armed junior, was not upset when Brennan was reinserted under center in overtime despite the fact that he had led the Rockets to their only points of game.
In the end, it was the combination of what both brought to the table that enabled Needham to overcome a 14-0 deficit entering the final quarter of the season and come away with a thrilling 20-17 comeback victory in overtime at Memorial Field.
“We put Drew Burnett in there to get a spark going and Kevin Brennan had some big receptions and some nice runs too,” said Needham coach Dave Duffy. “We were just trying to get all of our good players on the field.”
While Duffy was hoping to send his senior captain off with a win while under center all game, it was pretty clear late in the third quarter that the longtime coach had to call an audible.
After amassing just 48 yards of offense late into the third quarter, Duffy put in Burnett at QB and moved Brennan to the slot. It was exactly the change the Rockets needed.
Burnett went 8-of-16 passing for 161 yards and a touchdown while Brennan ran for 33 yards and made a pair of catches for 45 yards in the second half.
“I was ready,” said Burnett. “I knew they were a great team and it was going to be tough moving the ball so I figured I should be ready and it worked out for the best.”
“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 that matters. That’s all I care about.”
It was the efforts of both that led to the win. After Burnett played three snaps at end of the first half, Brennan returned to quarterback most of the third quarter. But Burnett took over with 1:26 left in the third on the Needham 32-yard line trailing 14-0. He immediately hit fellow junior Mark Riley for 13 yards but the drive stalled at the Wellesley 48 early in the fourth.
The Rockets got the ball back at their own 31 just over a minute and a half later and after being held scoreless for three-plus quarters, they reached paydirt in just three plays. Brennan ripped off a 23-yard run on first down and then Burnett hit Brennan for a 26-yard completion down to the Wellesley 20. On the very next play Burnett hit Mark Riley in the right corner of the end zone to make it 14-7 with 9:04 remaining.
“It was tough at the beginning of the half. It was cold,” said Burnett. “Once they said I was going to go back in I got warm on the sidelines and I was all set to go. We work on that in practice every day. We get a lot of reps.”
“Using both guys is something we’ve been doing all year,” said Duffy. “We haven’t really got into that offense against the last two teams we played because we had big leads and we didn’t want to run it up on them. But we knew Drew could throw, we’ve got three good quarterbacks in the program so we’re blessed.”
Trailing 14-7 with just over six minutes left, junior Ian Riley’s 29-yard punt return gave Needham superb field position at the Wellesley 26. After a pair of incomplete passes, Burnett connected with Mark Riley, who made a great catch in traffic, for 16 yards on 3rd-and-10 to setup first-and-goal at the 10.
Brennan then had a 4-yard run followed but a 6-yard TD run senior captain Sam Nickles to tie the game with 5:23 left.
“Drew stepped up big,” said Mark Riley. “He missed the first three games with a knee injury but he bounced back well when Kevin went down and he led us down the field. Kevin Brennan also played a huge part in the victory too because he was catching and running the ball when he wasn’t playing quarterback.”
The Rockets had one final chance to win it in regulation when they got it back with just under one minute left and Burnett’s 21-yard hookup with Brennan brought the ball down to the 27-yard line with just seconds remaining setting up a frantic 4th-and-5. Burnett rolled out but couldn’t find an open receiver, forcing the junior to scramble and he was able to get inside the 10-yard line before being hit and forced out of bounds, but time had expired during the play sending the game to the extra session.
After the Raiders kicked a 32-yard field goal to go up 17-14 on the first possession of overtime, Duffy put Brennan back in at quarterback for Needham’s attempt from the 10-yard line.
“We went back to Kevin in overtime because that offense that we have with Drew you kind of need the long field and when you’re down on the goal line it kind of gets compressed,” said Duffy.
Faced with a 3rd-and-12, the elusive Brennan bought some extra time in the pocket, rolled out right and hit a sliding Mark Riley for the walkoff touchdown.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Burnett of Brennan. “His speed, his elusiveness, his ability to throw the ball is unmatched. It’s so hard to defend him. You can just see it on those sneaks, he got like 10 yards a pop.”
“I think Drew did a great job,” said Brennan. “He brought us back when we needed a spark. He just did a great job leading the offense.”
“I wanted to be in there in OT but its Kevin’s team,” added Burnett. “He’s led us all year long, he’s a great player, and I’m glad he got to throw the game-winning TD pass.”
While Brennan was able to end his career in storybook fashion by tossing a touchdown pass on his final throw, it will be Burnett who undoubtedly takes the reins for the Rockets next fall. His performance last Thursday virtually assured it.