NEEDHAM — For the 125th time — 93d consecutive Thanksgiving Day — Bay State League rivals Needham and Wellesley locked horns on the gridiron.
The Rockets defeated Wellesley, 39-21, Thursday in front of a packed house at Memorial Field behind the play of junior running back Mike Panepinto.
Needham has won the last three meetings and has cut Wellesley’s overall advantage to 59-57-9.
Panepinto rushed for 291 yards on 29 carries and scored all five Needham touchdowns. He ended the regular season as the leading scorer in Division 1 with 25 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards rushing.
“I was able to do well because of the great play by our offensive line that opened up huge holes for me and gave our quarterback great pass protection,” said Panepinto.
Needham’s victory, coupled with a loss by Weymouth gives Needham a share of the Bay State Carey Division title (with Weymouth). Unfortunately for the Rockets, a Week 4 loss at Weymouth, in the game’s final 23 seconds, sends the Wildcats to the playoffs and ends Needham’s season.
Needham jumped to a 14-0 first-quarter lead on Panepinto touchdown runs of 11 and 38 yards.
Despite the early hole, Wellesley battled back. Senior Will Adams scored all three touchdowns for the Raiders. Adams had seven carries for 42 yards and two touchdowns and two receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown. Adams got Wellesley on the board with a 3-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 14-7.
Needham responded with a seven-play, 74-yard drive capped by Panepinto’s 9-yard run. Back came Wellesley, led by senior captain and quarterback Chris Sarni (11 of 22 for 100 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions). He connected with Adams on an 18-yard touchdown pass and a 2-point conversion to sophomore Alex Porter to bring the Raiders to within 21-15.
Needham would not let Wellesley get any closer, scoring with 3:01 left before halftime. Panepinto again capped off a drive with a 9-yard touchdown run, and Charter connected with senior Matt McGloin for the 2-point conversion to give Needham a 29-15 lead at halftime.
“We knew that we couldn’t sit on the lead and our offense was balanced, which made it tough for Wellesley to stop, and we made big plays on both sides of the ball,” said Needham coach David Duffy.
Panepinto added his fifth touchdown on a 78-yard run in the third quarter.
“We had our chances, but we made too many mistakes on defense and didn’t execute well enough on offense,” said Wellesley coach Jesse Davis.