MILTON — With Needham facing first and goal from the 9 with less than two minutes to play, the Milton defense held strong. The Rockets could only advance 2 yards as a pass to senior Matt Smith on the final play fell incomplete.
In a game featuring two teams with high-powered offenses, it was defense that defined the game as host Milton (5-1, 3-0 Herget) dealt 10th-ranked Needham (5-1, 2-1) its first loss, 22-14, in a Bay State Conference clash Friday night.
“We were underdogs, I don’t think anyone picked us to beat them,” said Milton junior Stephen Joyce. “We came in with nothing to lose.”
After trading touchdowns in the first quarter, the defenses held stout for the next two frames, forcing the offenses to find other ways to score. Both teams limited the run, with Milton holding Tyler Reid to 38 yards on 16 carries.
Joyce was a big part of Milton’s defensive success. The linebacker finished with an interception, a fumble recovery, and two tackles for a loss. Smith Charles also added a crucial interception in the end zone to halt a Needham drive.
“This is the breakout game for Stephen,” said Milton coach Steve Dembowski. “He got a taste of it last year and we’ve been putting more and more on him. He can rush the passer, he can play coverage, he’s a real good linebacker, and he’s a junior, so we’re thrilled about that.”
With 2:36 to go in the third quarter, leading by 2, Milton dealt a decisive blow. Forced to punt, Joyce booted a long kick that short-hopped Needham’s returner and rolled toward the end zone. Milton senior Tyrece Weekes dove on the ball for the touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 9-point lead.
“Special teams obviously won us the game,” said Joyce. “The first punt I shanked, so I just wanted to make up for it. It’s a big part of the team.”
After the Duke-bound Smith cut the lead to 2 on a 74-yard catch-and-run early in the fourth for Needham, the Wildcats responded with six minutes to play on a 44-yard pass from Luke McMenamin to Isaiah Woodley, though a missed extra point set up the tense finish.
“Our kids just kept competing,” said Dembowski. “They obviously have great weapons and both teams made mistakes, but we were able to hold the fort in the end.”
Dan Shulman can be reached at email@example.com.