Raider comeback falls short in classic

Pictured streaking down the field on punt coverage, junior Josh Yen (10) helped orchestrate an incredible comeback by tossing a touchdown pass to Anthony Perez on a trick play with just over a minute remaining in Wellesley’s eventual 14-13 defeat to Natick on Friday. Photos by Mike Flanagan

By Mike Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor

The annual Wellesley and Natick football game is often a date circled on the calendar. This season, however, there was a lot more than bragging rights on the line; the game’s winner would be able to control its own destiny for the Herget Division title.

Despite a late surge by Matt Maiona and the Wellesley offense, the Raiders (4-1, 1-1) fell a two-point conversion shy of pulling off an absolutely stunning comeback, falling 14-13 in an instant classic.

Following a punt on their opening series, Wellesley missed a pair of field goals on back-to-back possessions to keep the game scoreless after one quarter. Will Lederman then led the Redhawks (5-0, 1-0) down the field on a long, clock-killing drive before capping the possession off with a six-yard touchdown run by Jalyn Aponte to give Natick a 7-0 lead at halftime.

In a game featuring two of the state’s top quarterbacks in Matt Maiona and Natick’s Will Lederman, it may have been a surprise to some to see only seven points on the board at the half. A scoreless third quarter allowed the game enter the final frame still 7-0 in favor of Natick. A two-yard touchdown by Aponte just 1:14 into the fourth doubled Natick’s lead to 14-0, but that would be the last time Natick’s offense would cross midfield for the remainder of the game.

Desperate for a score to climb back into the contest, Maiona led the Raiders down the field on an 11-play drive, connecting with Carl Callahan twice for first-down conversions before finally hooking up with Anthony Perez for a 13-yard score with 6:34 remaining.

The Wellesley defense forced a punt with 2:12 to play, and Callahan returned the ball down inside the 30 to set up the Raiders for the potential tying or go-ahead score. On a third down and 12, Wellesley drew up some trickeration and delivered its biggest score of the season thus far. Maiona took the shotgun snap and handed the ball off to senior captain Josh Yen on a receiver sweep. Yen then lobbed up a ball to a streaking Perez, who made an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone with 1:14 to play to make it a 14-13 game. Wellesley opted to keep the offense on the field and go for two and the win. On the two-point try, Matt Maiona attempted a designed quarterback run, but was stuffed at the one by a wall of Natick tacklers. The Raiders attempted an unsuccessful onside kick as Natick took over possession and knelt to victory.

Wellesley football fans can only hope for a potential postseason rematch with the Redhawks, but for now, the Raiders will enjoy a bye week and then try to bounce back on October 19 against Brookline.

For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter and Instagram @flano0.

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