Needham senior captain Connor Hickey (24) and senior defensive tackle Donald Anastasi (54) become acquainted with Xaverian’s Ikechukwu Irabor (20) and the Hawk offensive line on a power-run midway through the first quarter.Photos by Michael Flanagan
By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
When the MIAA Division I South Sectional football playoff bracket was released two weeks ago, two things were apparent: a heavy Catholic Conference presence, and local powerhouses Xaverian and Brockton being in the same region. No. 2 Needham (6-3) took care of No. 7 Brockton (3-5) 23-20 in the quarterfinals, so rather than seeing a matchup that takes place seemingly every year in the South Sectionals between Xaverian and Brockton, the Rockets got their shot against the ten-time state champs at home on Friday night in the South Semifinals.
Xaverian (5-3), who handled No. 6 Attleboro (3-4) with ease (44-6) in their quarterfinal matchup, kept the momentum going on Friday at Memorial Field, shutting out the Rockets 28-0 thanks to a shutdown defensive effort and dominance on the ground from their running back duo of Ikechukwu Irabor and Mike Saliba.The No. 3 Hawks forced a punt on Needham’s opening drive of the game. Xaverian then drove 63 yards down to the Needham two-yard line thanks to a series of powerful runs by Irabor. However, the Rocket defense flexed its muscle as linebacker Matt Roque stuffed Irabor with a thundering hit on fourth down at the goal line to keep the game knotted at zeroes with 5:02 to play in the first.
Quarterback Charlie Ogletree got the Rockets out of tough field position on Needham’s ensuing possession following the fourth down stand, hooking up with Matt Smith and John Andre for first-down completions to get Needham away from its own goal line. Xaverian’s defense eventually forced a punt thanks to a pair of pass breakups by sophomore defensive back Demetrios Tsoumbanos, and the Hawks took over at the Needham 45-yard line.
On second down, Xaverian quarterback Davin Sweeney launched up a deep ball to junior wideout Cooper DeVeau. The ball was hauled in by DeVeau, who dashed 39 yards to the end zone, as the Hawks drew first blood at 7-0 with 2:11 to play in the first.
After entering the second quarter with the 7-0 lead, Xaverian forced Needham to punt and got the ball back at their own 30-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Irabor took a handoff from Sweeney, bounced it to the outside, and flew 70 yards down the far right sideline to the end zone, putting the Hawks ahead 14-0 with 6:45 to play in the half.
Xaverian forced Needham to punt on their next possession, but a high snap over the punter’s head gave the Hawks the ball at the Needham 30 yard line with 5:22 to play and the chance to go ahead by three scores. After a pair of first-down throws by Sweeney, Saliba took a pitch on a quarterback option play and dashed to the right corner of the end zone to extend Xaverian’s lead to 21-0 with 2:29 to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Xaverian performed a trick play that can only be attributed to excellent coaching and scouting, as Brian Fallon perfectly placed a pooch kick along the near sidelines that was recovered by the Hawks, setting up a first-down for Xaverian at the Needham 36-yard line with a little over two minutes to play. Thankfully for Needham, the Rocket defense stood tall and stopped the Hawk offense on downs, as the game entered halftime with Xaverian comfortably ahead at 21-0.
The third quarter saw more of the same from the Xaverian defense, but the Needham defense also made its fair share of big plays. After the Hawks drove deep into Needham territory on their opening possession of the second half, Aaron Gordon picked off Sweeney at the Needham 15-yard line and returned it to the 25 to keep the deficit for the Rockets at 21 points. A pair of long runs by Odahri Hibberts and a defensive pass interference call against Xaverian allowed Needham to drive the ball deep into Xaverian territory looking to cut into the deficit, but the Hawk defense stuffed Needham on fourth down to begin the fourth quarter and take over possession at their own 28.
With a little under four minutes to play, Irabor ripped off a 52-yard run to the Needham 10-yard line to set up a first-and-goal for the Hawks. Saliba punched in his second touchdown of the night from six yards out to extend the Xaverian lead to 28-0 and all but seal the deal for the Hawks.
Catholic Memorial stunned No. 1 BC High thanks to a late Hail Mary on Friday evening in their semifinal matchup. The Knights will travel to the Hawk Bowl on Friday to take on Xaverian with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. CM defeated Xaverian 13-12 back on September 29.
Needham will play a consolation game next Friday before suiting up in their annual Thanksgiving grudge match at Wellesley on November 23.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.