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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The nation’s oldest public high school football rivalry wrote its 130th chapter on Thursday morning, as the Wellesley Raiders and Needham Rockets capped off their 2017 seasons with a thriller of a Thanksgiving game.
Thanks to a two-touchdown effort as well as a dominant defensive performance by D’Aunte Moore, the Raiders prevailed with a 23-20 victory, moving Wellesley to 62-59-9 all-time against Needham.
The Rockets (6-5) struck first early in the first quarter when quarterback Charlie Ogletree hooked up with senior captain and speedster John Andre for a long touchdown to put Needham ahead at 6-0. However, a fumbled snap on the ensuing PAT was picked up by Moore and returned 90 yards for a two-point conversion for the Raiders (6-5), as the deficit was trimmed to 6-2.
Early on in the second quarter, the D’Aunte Moore show continued for Wellesley, as the senior captain picked off Ogletree at the Needham 12-yard line and returned it for a go-ahead touchdown to put the Raiders up 8-6 (PAT no good).
Wellesley forced Needham to a three-and-out on its next series, and gave the ball back to sophomore Matt Maiona, who was making his first-career start at quarterback, with a little over seven minutes to play in the half. Maiona led Wellesley on a seven-play 68-yard drive capped off with a seven-yard touchdown run by freshman Shiloh White on a toss play to the right corner of the end zone, as Wellesley extended its lead to 15-6 (PAT good).
However, Ogletree responded for Needham with under a minute to play in the half by hooking up with Andre for his second touchdown of the day from 65 yards out, cutting the Wellesley lead to 15-13 at halftime.
Both teams exchanged punts to begin the second half. With a little over three minutes to play in the third quarter, Ogletree gave Needham back the lead with his third touchdown pass of the day, this time to Matt Smith on a 57-yard catch-and-run to put the Rockets ahead 20-15.
With time winding down in the fourth quarter and his team trailing by five, Maiona put together the drive of the season for Wellesley, moving the ball down inside the red zone to the Needham five-yard line with the chance to retake the lead. After two Wellesley runs were stuffed at the line of scrimmage, a false start penalty, and a sack moved the ball back to the Needham 14, the fate of the game came down to a fourth-down and goal. On the fourth-down play, Maiona took the snap out out of the shotgun and dumped it off to Moore on a wheel route. Moore made a man miss and scampered 14 yards to the end zone for the go-ahead score, followed by a successful two-point try by Maiona on a quarterback keeper to push the Wellesley lead to 23-20.
Needham got the ball back twice in the final minutes of the game, but the Rockets were unable to crack Wellesley’s prevent defense, and an interception by Maiona in the game’s final seconds sealed the deal.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.