NEEDHAM — Mike Panepinto walked onto Memorial Field knowing this could be his last Needham home game. His final Thanksgiving Day game will be held in Wellesley, and with the upcoming playoff schedule still in flux, it was possible he may never again suit up in front of the hometown faithful.
If this was indeed his last home game, the senior running back put together a game fans on Rosemary Street are sure to remember long after he’s gone.
Panepinto finished with 317 yards on the ground and 57 more through the air, establishing a school record with six touchdowns as the Rockets clinched the Bay State Carey title and a berth in the Division 2 playoffs with a 42-28 win over Weymouth on Friday night.
“I didn’t know he had six touchdowns,” said Needham coach Dave Duffy, struggling to put the achievement into words.
“They can’t tackle him. It’s not just Weymouth having trouble tackling him — it’s everyone. He’s a special player — a once in a lifetime player — and he deserves all the credit he gets.”
Weymouth and Needham each entered the contest undefeated in league play at 4-0, ensuring one of the two teams would walk off with the Carey crown for the sixth consecutive year.
On Needham’s first drive, Panepinto rushed for 55 of 62 total yards on the drive, including the 18-yard touchdown run for the 7-0 lead.
On the first play of Needham’s second drive, quarterback Ryan Charter handed the ball to his running back. Panepinto reached the far sideline and took off, leaving a wake of Wildcat defenders behind him for a 74-yard touchdown run.
Weymouth cut the deficit to 14-7 with 43 seconds remaining before the half, but the Rockets weren't yet ready for the intermission. Senior running back Jack Walsh ran 54 yards to set up a 6-yard Panepinto trot into the end zone.
In the third quarter, Weymouth capitalized on a Needham fumble to bring the score to 21-14.
Panepinto answered with a 79-yard touchdown on the following drive. He would add in a 57-yard touchdown reception from Charter before a 39-yard scoring run in the fourth.
“All the credit to my teammates, my offensive line,” said Panepinto. “I’m just the one lucky enough to be running the ball. That’s all it really was.”
Weymouth still has a chance to earn an at-large bid to the Division 1 South playoffs. The MIAA will announce the field Sunday afternoon.