Leading up to Friday’s contest against the Walpole Rebels, Needham Rocket fans had one question on their mind—who would replace senior captain and quarterback Drew Burnett under center?
The answer: an untested sophomore by the name of Ryan Charter, who appeared completely unfazed against a Rebels defense and managed to record two touchdown strikes to senior tight end Mark Riley in a 31-22 victory.
“It’s easy to play well with these kids, it’s a great team,” Charter said. “The whole week, I didn’t really know what was going on, I just tried to do my best in practice [and] I was looking forward to the game the whole week and everyone was asking if I was nervous and I was like, ‘no way, I’m excited,’ so I loved it, I loved it.”
“The kid came out, [he’s a] sophomore [and] played a hell of a game,” Walpole head coach Barry Greener said after his team’s first loss of the season. “I thought he was a senior, I thought he was a post-grad, [but] he played great.”
Charter and the Needham offense set the tone early, as they registered seven points on their opening drive when senior Dan Pierce connected with junior wide receiver Nico Panepinto before Walpole scored on the ensuing possession by junior running back Steve Thulin.
Needham then responded literally a few seconds later, as Charter connected with Riley for his first pass of the evening, a 67-yard touchdown pass, which gave the Rockets a confortable 14-6 lead at halftime.
“It was awesome,” Charter said when asked about his first varsity touchdown.
The Rockets then extended their lead during their first possession in the second half, as Charter again hooked up with Riley on 73-yard pass before Walpole stormed back with 66-yard touchdown run by Shane Blass. However, Walpole’s quick dash didn’t halt the Rockets' offense, which mustered two more scores before their special teams recovered an onside kick late in the fourth quarter to secure their sixth win of the season—and their undefeated record in the Bay State Conference record.
“He had a lot of poise, and character in there and he did a great job,” Needham head coach Dave Duffy said. “He played a lot better than he did [in Thursday’s practice]. He’s still young, [and] hopefully he can squeeze his helmet on Monday morning… he played great, he’s got a great supporting cast too, so they really picked it up for Drew not being here.”
Burnett was not present at to watch his team play, but afterward, Duffy and the players gathered on the gridiron and dedicated this particular victory to him, as well as the honorary game ball too.
“To win without Drew Burnett, I thought would be very hard, especially [against Walpole], but the kids rallied and all week they wanted to do it for Drew,” Duffy said.
“One of our goals this season was to beat Walpole since we lost to them last year, and especially with Drew going down, we kind of took Ryan under our wing and he’s been learning the schemes all week, so he played a great game [on Friday], he threw well and just really led our team to victory,” Riley said.
The Rockets will return to the gridiron next Friday, Oct. 28 when they host Natick, while the Rebels will host Newton North.