WELLESLEY — There was no league title, no Super Bowl berth, or much of anything else hinging on the outcome of the 126th meeting and 94th consecutive Thanksgiving encounter between Bay State League rivals Needham and Wellesley. The oldest public high school rivalry in the country was played for pride, and between these schools, that is even more important.
The Raiders (7-4), led by outstanding senior quarterback John Fadule, defeated Needham, 22-6, at Hunnewell Stadium. Wellesley snapped a three-year losing streak, and holds an overall advantage of 60-57-9 in the rivalry.
The Rockets (7-4) were without remarkable senior running back Mike Panepinto, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury .
Fadule, playing in his first Thanksgiving Day game after transferring to Wellesley this year from Milton Academy, was able to jump right into the hero’s role. Fadule excelled with his legs and arm, compiling 133 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 27 carries, and passing for 160 yards on nine completions in 20 attempts.
“We were able to get through a lot of adversity and made a lot of key plays and our defense shut them out. It was my first time experiencing this atmosphere and it was a ton of fun,” said Fadule.
Needham stayed in the game with the help of eight Wellesley penalties and three interceptions by Fadule, one of which produced the only score for the Rockets. However, Needham was unable to convert five fourth-down plays, three inside the red zone.
“A lot of people thought that the new [playoff] alignment would take away from the Thanksgiving Day games, but this game meant everything to both teams,” said Wellesley coach Jesse Davis. “We came through with some big plays on both offense and defense.”
Needham was spearheaded by senior quarterback Ryan Charter (12 for 27 for 155 yards), but without Panepinto, the Rockets could only muster 69 yards rushing on 26 carries.
Needham senior receiver Mike Elcock (six receptions for 112 yards) was Charter’s favorite target.
Fadule had a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and had a 9-yard scoring run in the second.
Down, 14-0, the Rockets marched to the Wellesley 4-yard line. But, on fourth down, the Raiders could not punch the ball into the end zone as time expired in the first half.
“We had plenty of chances throughout the game and could not finish,” said Needham coach Dave Duffy. “We missed Mike [Panepinto], but Wellesley did a great job. We still had a great season and won the [Bay State] Carey Division and a playoff game.”
Needham finally got on the scoreboard when sophomore Joe Gowetski picked off a Fadule pass and rumbled 50 yards for a score with 53 seconds left in the third quarter.
Wellesley responded on the ensuing drive. T.J. Noonan plunged in from 4 yards. The extra point was blocked, but the ball was picked up by junior Jack Dolan, who ran it into the end zone for 2 points.