By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
NEEDHAM, Mass. – In last year’s win at Macktaz Field, it was the King Philip defense that tossed a shutout in a convincing win over Needham. On Friday night, in the first round of the Div. 2 South sectional at Memorial Field, the Rockets got revenge with a shutout of their own, beating King Philip 24-0 to return to the semifinals.
“Last year we had the better team and made more plays and this year they had the better team,” said KP coach Brian Lee when asked about Needham wanting revenge for last year’s win.
“You can circle it and talk about it and yell in the locker room, but in the end you’ve got to come out and play on the field and they just played better.”
Needham took the lead on its first possession of the game. Senior Sam Foley hit John Andre for 17 yards to the 44-yard line and then two plays later found Andre again for a 56-yard touchdown on the far sideline.
KP had missed an open receiver on third down on its first possession and then fumbled to start its second, which was recovered by the Rockets at the Warriors 25. The defense made a huge stand forcing a turnover on downs to stay in the game.
The Warriors started to move the ball on the next possession when John DeLuca hit James McGhee for 13 yards and a first down and Steven Eaton took a pair of carries 11 yards for another into Needham territory at the 49. But, the drive stalled under heavy pressure from the Needham front four; Kevin Bruce and Rudy Hasenfus sacking DeLuca on back-to-back plays.
“They were physical and played with an attitude that I don’t think we matched from the get-go,” said Lee. “I don’t think we gave ourselves much of an opportunity by the way that we came out and started the game.”
He added, “But I think that was more about Needham playing at a higher level than our guys not wanting to compete.”
The secondary continued to struggle against the Needham passing game. Foley found Joe Bruno for 20 yards down to the Warriors 24 and then on fourth and eight he looked towards the end zone and senior Luke Geraghty. It looked like he had overthrown the receiver only for Geraghty to leap and pull it in with one hand.
“It was two big pass plays,” said Lee. “If you don’t cover someone that makes it easier and then the kid makes a great effort down this end. Kudos to that kid…that’s a kid that wants to make a play and he did.”
King Philip had the ball in Needham territory twice more before halftime but both times the drives stalled and the Warriors came up empty.
On the first a good punt return by Leo Munafo put KP on the Needham 42. DeLuca had a pair of keepers for 15 yards and Giovanni Fernandez had a couple rushes for nine yards to get the ball down to the Rockets 18. Two incomplete passes and a scramble from DeLuca that came up two yards short ended the drive. The second was also ended by good pressure from the Rockets with Bruno and D.C. Cox combining for a sack of DeLuca on third down to force a punt.
The momentum could have turned early in the second half. Ryan McCarthy recovered an onside kick attempt by KP, but Needham started the drive in a hole after two penalties brought the Rockets back to first and 25.
Foley got nine back on a keeper and then completed four straight passes down to the KP 21. His next pass went in and out of the hands of KP linebacker Corey Lombardo, who was all over the field for the Warriors, allowing the drive to continue and Alex Sliney kicked a 32-yard field goal to make it 17-0.
“I can’t believe that we converted that first and 25,” said Needham coach Dave Duffy. “That was a huge turnaround for us to get the field goal and go up by three scores.”
About his senior quarterback, Foley, Duffy added, “They had eight, nine guys in the box and nobody can really run against that but Sam did a great job getting the ball to John Andre and the guys.”
Needham gave KP another chance when a snap flew over the head of Foley and was recovered by Michael Riggs at the Warriors 46. But, on the very next play, DeLuca fumbled at the end of a five-yard keeper and Needham go the ball right back.
The Rockets took advantage and effectively sealed the victory when Jared Sklar broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and raced 43 yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it 24-0 with 10:15 left to play.
“We have not faced a team that physical and that strong,” said Lee. “You can’t mimic that in practice, so it really slowed us down.”
“And when we did have plays, we left them out there.”
King Philip (3-5) will play the loser of Wellesley and Braintree next week.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.