Prior to the start of the regular season, various varsity football players predicted that the Rockets would win the Bay State Conference Carey division and clinch a Division I playoff berth.
On Thanksgiving morning, the Rockets' preseason prediction came true, as Needham and secured a spot in today's Division I semi-final contest against New Bedford High School, set for 7:30 p.m. at Weymouth High School.
“They’re big, they’re fast, and they play a very tough schedule. I know they’re banged up a little bit, [because] they had some injuries to some of their good players, [which] is very similar to us,” said Needham head coach Dave Duffy, when asked to describe the Whalers football team.
Duffy continued by saying, “They look very well coached on film and I’m hoping we play better than we did against Bridgewater-Raynham, [two years ago], and I think we will.”
The Rockets and Whalers have never tangled with one another under the lights, so today's contest should be an interesting affair.
“They’re strong, big, tough kids, so that’s really all we know about them," said senior co-captain Mark Riley. "We’ve been watching film, so we’re going to try and shut them down [by using] our strengths against them."
Needham has never won a playoff game nor a Super Bowl, so this particular contest means a lot to Duffy and his players, who appeared more focused than usual on Monday afternoon at .
“We’ve put all the time and effort into having a great season, to win the league, to beat Wellesley [and] now we've got one more big game,” Duffy said. “We’re in Division I, we’ve never won a playoff game, so we’re going to try and focus on that. The kids are excited, they love football, so the more football the better.”
Keys to Victory
Against the Whalers, the Rockets will have to work together as well as play smart, fundamental football, Duffy said.
“I think we’ve got to do what we always try to do, which is stay away from penalties, stay away from turnovers and play a good defense, and I think the offense will take care of itself,” he said.
The head coach continued by saying, “In the playoffs, it comes down to basic football. We’ve got to get the ball into the hands of our best players and if we do that, tackle well, then I think we’ll be alright.”
The Whalers have averaged close to 24 points per game and, from a defensive perspective, Needham’s senior co-captain Peter Madsen knows that pressuring the opposing quarterback and tackling well will be crucial.
“These guys are quicker and stronger than a lot of the guys we’ve seen this year, so definitely multiple guys on tackles is going to be huge for this game,” Madsen said.
Needham’s senior running back and co-captain Mike Vespa said his team should be confident going into the semi-final after faring well this season against quality opponents such as Mansfield, Natick, Walpole and Weymouth.
“We’ve played in big game situations, [such as] Mansfield, Wellesley, Weymouth, so we’re going to try and keep it like every other game,” Vespa said. “[We’re going to] do our job and see what happens.”
All in all, the Rockets need to focus on controlling the tempo and time of possession in order to win this particular contest. They also need to limit New Bedford’s ground game and provide a great deal of pressure on sophomore quarterback Trevellis Oliver.
Charter’s Outlook On His First Playoff Game
Sophomore quarterback Ryan Charter appeared eager and excited on Monday when asked if he was ready to lead his squad to victory.
“I’m really excited for this week. It’s obviously a very achievable game [and] I know it’s a good New Bedford team we’re going to be playing, but we’re playing really good football right now, so we definitely have a great shot going into [Tuesday],” Charter said.
The young gunslinger has certainly experienced a tumultuous season—forced into a starting role midway through the year because of senior co-captain Drew Burnett’s . However, Burnett, Duffy and numerous Rocket teammates have rallied around Charter and helped him progress over the past five weeks.
“Drew’s been a huge help. He’s been very encouraging. He’s given me good insight on what I have to work on and definitely put it to my use,” Charter said. “He’s definitely helped me get better every day. I really appreciate what he’s done.”
“I think he’s played very well,” Duffy said of Charter. “I think the senior class, and the receivers and the kids on the offense have helped Ryan out a lot by not putting a lot of pressure on him and trying to do everything they could to help him along, and I think it’s paid off for the team.”
With a win on Tuesday, Charter would become the first Needham football quarterback to lead the Rockets to a playoff victory.
“It would be a big accomplishment to get to the Super Bowl [on Saturday], but we’ve got to focus on the game [on Tuesday],” Charter said.
Prediction: This one won’t be easy, but if the Rockets can score first and dictate the tempo of the game, expect Needham to pull out a dramatic win. However, if Duffy’s squad doesn’t protect the football, plays haphazardly and doesn’t contain New Bedford junior Mike Rapoza, expect New Bedford to be victorious. Final score: New Bedford 21, Needham 14
Tickets to tonight's game are available at the gate at Weymouth High School and cost $10 for adults and $7 for students.
Fan buses for Needham Public Schools faculty, staff and students will leave the high school at 6:00 p.m. There is no charge to ride the fan buses, which are provided courtesy of the Needham High School Boosters Club; however, anyone who wants to ride must sign up outside the athletic office by noon today (Tuesday, Nov. 29).