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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
The Walpole Rebels (1-1) and Needham Rockets (0-2) met under lights on Friday night at Turco Field in their annual Bay State Conference matchup. Led by stout defensive play and the lethal rushing attack of senior running back Ferry Armand, the Rebels prevailed 21-7 despite a late offensive push by Jared Sklar and the Rockets.
Following multiple strong runs by Ferry Armand (19 rushes, 76 yards) on Walpole’s first drive, quarterback Charlie Auditore got the Rebels off to a strong start when he hit Tim Hayes on a 12-yard touchdown pass to put the Rebels up 7-0 at 9:51 of the first quarter.
Auditore struck again with 1:59 left in the quarter but this time it was with his legs rather than his arm, as the senior QB scrambled 25 yards for a touchdown to put Walpole up 14-0.
Stellar pass rushing by Rebel linebackers Daniel O’Leary (1.5 sacks) and Kyle Smith (2 sacks) along with defensive tackle David White (1.5 sacks) preserved the 14-0 lead for Walpole at the half as the tandem was able to get to Needham quarterback Charles Sumner and disrupt the rhythm of the Rocket offense multiple times throughout the night.
Following going down 14-0 early, the Rocket defense rose to the challenge and did not allow another offensive score to the Rebels for the remainder of the evening, thanks in large part to the pass rushing of linebackers Joe Bruno (39) and Matt Roque (57).
The Rebel defense continued their incredible play at the beginning of the second half and kept the Rockets off the scoreboard for the entire third quarter. However, following multiple clutch drive-extending grabs by Needham’s John Andre (eight receptions, 69 yards), a 12-yard touchdown pass from Charles Sumner to Brendan Smith on a vertical route with just under eight minutes to play got the Rockets right back into it, down just 14-7.
Following the touchdown drive, Needham’s defense was able to force a three-and-out on Walpole’s next possession, and the Rockets got the ball back one more time to attempt to tie things up.
On the second play of Needham’s ensuing drive, Sumner dropped back in the pocket and threw a pass towards the Rebel sideline intended for John Andre. Sumner’s pass was intercepted by Walpole’s Dan O’Leary and returned for a touchdown to extend the lead back to 14 and clinch the win for the Rebels.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, Needham head coach David Duffy credited his team’s ability to battle back late in the game.
“Very tough one,” said Duffy. “Credit Walpole. They played very well and they made a lot fewer mistakes than we did. We were able to battle back late and I was proud of the way the guys responded down two scores, a couple missed opportunities in the red zone turned out to be the difference.”
Walpole head coach Barry Greener, meanwhile, credited his defense for their resilience but also stated that there is plenty that the team needs to work on.
“That was a really hard-fought win,” said Greener. “Our defense played extremely tough. The biggest play of the game was O’Leary’s pick-six because it not only helped us get the win, but it also was a good symbol of how hard our D worked tonight, just grinding it out and finding a way to make a play.”
“The kids hung in there. Needham’s got some really fast and skilled players, and we were fortunate enough to get out to a fast start on offense, which was a big key, because we weren’t able to get much rolling in the second half. We’ll have to see on film how we can get the ball moving more.”