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Perez, Raiders overpower McDonald, Rockets

Marcus Fuentes (3) cuts up the field on a kick-off return early in the second quarter. Photos by Mike Flanagan.

By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor

From the countless memorable finishes and highlight reel plays, to the 2015 matchup at Fenway Park, and yes, to the bench-clearing brawl that occurred in 2019, the annual Needham/Wellesley high school football game has seen just about everything throughout the last 133 years.

After settling their differences on the gridiron for more than a century on Thanksgiving day, 2020 found a way to change that and add a new twist to this rivalry. Due to COVID-19, the entire 2020 MIAA high school football season was pushed back to the spring of 2021. On Friday, the Rockets and Raiders met at Memorial Field in front of a limited crowd with both teams trying to get to 2-0 on the young season.

Along with the game occurring in March instead of late November, the timing on the schedule also added a new element. In a normal year, both of these teams have usually figured out their identities by the time they play on Thanksgiving, allowing both to play to their strengths. With the game being played during week two rather than the end of the regular season, that entire dynamic was thrown out the window.

After recovering an onside kick to open the game, Needham's offense fumbled the ball inside the Wellesley 20 on an attempted jet sweep to wideout Edgar Vasquez. Following a Wellesley three-and-out, Needham again got the ball in plus territory. However, quarterback Will McDonald was intercepted by Wellesley linebacker Tom Seifert to set the Raiders up at midfield, keeping the game scoreless at the end of the first quarter.

On the ensuing possession, sophomore quarterback Vincent Ferrara lofted up a beautiful 15-yard pass to senior wideout Wedner Cadet. Cadet leapt and made a highlight reel catch over the head of Needham defensive back Ryan Hannigan in the left corner of the end zone to give the Raiders a 7-0 lead. Needham's next possession stalled out following back-to-back sacks by Callahan on McDonald. Ferrara then led the Raiders down the field, hooking up with Callahan on a third-and-11 for 19 yards to extend the drive. Senior Josh Yen capped off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run to give the Raiders a 13-0 lead (PAT no-good).

With Wellesley driving late in the half, Hannigan gave the Rockets some momentum heading into halftime with an interception on a deep-ball by Ferrara, keeping the game 13-0 at the break.

On Wellesley's first possession of the second half, Needham forced the Raiders to a fourth-and-28 from the Needham 33-yard-line. In no-man's-land as far as field possession, Wellesley opted to go for it instead of punting. Ferrara rewarded head coach Jesse Davis for his decision by hooking up with senior wideout Anthony Perez on a post pattern for a 33-yard touchdown, extending Wellesley's lead to 20-0 with 8:24 to play in the third quarter.

On the second play of Needham's ensuing possession, Perez delivered the back-breaker, intercepting a pass by McDonald in the flat and returning the ball back 32 yards for a pick-six, putting the Raiders ahead 27-0 at the end of three quarters. James Dolan would add a one-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter as Wellesley cruised to a 34-0 victory.

For funny and incisive sports analysis as well as video highlights of games, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram handles @flano0.

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