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By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The Needham High football team hosted rival Walpole on Friday night with both teams needing a big-time win. The Rockets, who entered at 1-5 (1-3), needed a victory just to have a chance of getting into playoffs. Walpole, meanwhile, looked to secure their fourth win of the season and improve their seeding in Division III South.
Behind a big night by senior captain and running back Tyler Reid (31 carries, 212 total yards, return touchdown) along with the return of senior captain and slot back Odahri Hibberts (four catches, 94 yards, one touchdown) from injury, Needham outlasted Walpole, thanks to a late 22-yard field goal by Sam Chutkow for a 30-28 victory.
Senior captain and quarterback Will Jarvis led the Rebels (3-4, 2-3) down the field for a score on Walpole’s opening possession, connecting with Gianluca Gonser on a two-yard play-action pass to put the Rebels ahead 7-0. On the ensuing kickoff, Reid made a cut at the 30-yard line and dashed 70 yards untouched to the end zone to tie the game at seven for Needham.
The Needham defense stepped up and forced a punt on Walpole’s next possession. Junior quarterback Will McDonald (three touchdown passes) then led the Rockets down the field before capping off the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to Pat Toolan to give Needham a 13-7 lead with 4:49 to play in the opening quarter (PAT no-good).
Walpole retook the lead at 14-13 with 8:25 remaining in the half, thanks to an eight-yard connection off play-action from Jarvis to Chris Reilly. The game remained 14-13 Walpole until 1:14 to play in the half, as Needham’s defense stopped the Rebels on downs at their own 37-yard line. On the first play of the ensuing possession, McDonald found Hibberts on a comeback route, and the senior displayed his elite speed by breaking a tackle and dashing 63 yards down the far sideline for the go-ahead score to put the Rockets ahead, 20-14, at halftime.
It appeared as though Needham would take a two-score lead into the final quarter when McDonald helped the Rockets extend things to 27-14 with 1:38 remaining in the third, hooking up with Dan Warner on a five-yard play-action pass. However, Ray Louissant had other ideas; the star senior wideout/return-man took the ensuing kickoff back 81 yards for a touchdown to make it a 27-21 game at the end of three quarters.
Walpole’s defense forced a punt to begin the fourth quarter. Jarvis then led the offense down the field as the Rebels retook the lead at 28-27, thanks to an eight-yard hookup with Louissant on a slant route with 8:02 remaining.
With his team’s season on the line, McDonald stepped up and put together one final drive for the Rockets. A connection with tight end Andrew Barnett, plus multiple long runs by Reid, set Needham up in field goal range. The drive would stall out inside the 10, but Chutkow would boot home the go-ahead field goal with 3:15 remaining to reclaim the lead for Needham at 30-28. Needham’s defense stopped Walpole on downs near midfield with 2:01 to play, before a pair of long runs by Reid allowed the Rockets to chew the clock down inside 30 seconds before turning it over back to the Rebels. Needham’s defense sacked Jarvis on the first play of the ensuing possession. With Walpole out of timeouts, the clock ran out. Needham prevailed, 30-28.
Walpole will play host to Milford on November 1 at 5 p.m. in the first round of the Division III South Sectionals. Meanwhile, Friday’s win earned Needham a date with No. 1 Catholic Memorial in the opening round of Division I South. The Rockets and Knights will kick off at 7 p.m. on November 1.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram @flano0.