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Rockets nearly stun Wildcats in thriller

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By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports

Starting the season 1-4 and losing stud slot back Odahri Hibberts to injury was not what Needham High football had envisioned when entering the 2019 season. Despite facing significant adversity, Needham showed a lot of grit and heart on Friday night when the Rockets hosted unbeaten Milton.

After falling behind, 28-7, midway through the second quarter, the Rockets came roaring back to tie the game at 28 with 1:20 to play. Unfortunately for Needham, Milton staved off the upset by driving the length of the field and kicking a game-winning field goal with two seconds remaining to escape with the 31-28 victory.

John Barros rushed one in from two yards out on Milton’s opening possession of the game to make it 7-0 Wildcats with 5:40 to play in the first quarter. Milton doubled their lead to 14-0 with a scoop and score on a Tyler Reid fumble with 3:00 to play. A big 62-yard return by sophomore Edgar Vazquez on the ensuing kickoff set Needham up inside the Milton 20-yard line. On the second play of the series, junior quarterback Will McDonald hooked up with Reid on a screen pass for a 16-yard touchdown to cut the deficit in half to 14-7 with 1:48 to play in the quarter.

A big return on the ensuing kickoff by Milton set the Wildcats up in Needham territory. Chase Vaughn then hooked up with Jackson MacMillan for a 41-yard touchdown on the first play of the ensuing possession. Milton went back ahead by 14 at 21-7 with 1:28 remaining in the quarter.

Needham’s offense was forced to punt on its first possession of the second quarter, followed by a Milton touchdown drive as Vaughn found Andrew Possi for a 12-yard score to make it 28-7 with 9:50 to play in the half. Desperate for a response, McDonald led the Rockets down the field with a series of completions to Vazquez and Andrew Barnett to set up Needham in the red zone. On a fourth-and-three, McDonald capped off the drive with an 11-yard touchdown connection to senior tight end Dan Warner to cut the deficit to 28-14 with 5:05 remaining in the half. The Wildcats drove the ball into Needham territory on their next possession, but were stopped on downs. The game entered halftime with Milton still in front, 28-14.

McDonald and the Needham offense began the second half perfectly, marching right down the field on an 11-play drive, capped off by an 11-yard rushing touchdown by Reid to make it a one-possession game again at 28-21 with 7:49 to play in the third quarter. Stout defensive play by both sides kept it a 28-21 game until late in the fourth quarter. After the defense forced a punt, the Rockets took over at their own 39-yard-line with the chance to tie the game with just over three minutes remaining. McDonald led the Rockets into Milton territory with a pair of completions to Barnett before a long, rugged run by Reid gave Needham a first down inside the Milton 30. With 1:20 to play, McDonald scrambled out to his left and lofted up a bomb to the end zone that was hauled in by a leaping Barnett for a touchdown, tying the game at 28.

Chase Vaughn connected on a pair of long completions to Luke Botsford and John Barros on Milton’s ensuing series, as the Wildcats drove down inside the two-yard line with just five seconds remaining. Max Winkler booted home the go-ahead and game-winning 22-yard field goal with two seconds remaining, and Milton escaped with the three-point victory.

Needham will look to bounce back when the Rockets host Walpole on October 25.

For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram @flano0.

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