Mass. High Schools: Needham Football 2019 Season Preview

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Needham High School football coach Doug Kopsco directs his players through a practice drill. (PHOTO: Matt Noonan/

By Matt Noonan | @MattyNoonz11

For Doug Kopsco, his first season as the head coach of the Needham High School football team seemed to go pretty well.

Kopsco’s Rockets posted a winning record of 7-4 last fall, which included a postseason win over Newton North in the quarterfinals of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) D1 South playoffs and an exciting one-point victory over archrival Wellesley on Thanksgiving Day.

Heading into his second season with his alma mater’s football program, Kopsco appears more relaxed. In fact, he seems to be enjoying his new role with the Rockets, who are expected to once again contend for a Bay State Conference (BSC) Herget title this fall. 

“Really at the end of the day, it isn’t about x’s and o’s. It is about the culture, it is about the kids and it is about the family enviornment,” said Kopsco, who was previously a coordinator for the Rockets football program before taking over for coach Dave Duffy last season.

“It’s one thing to preach it and talk about it, but it is another thing to invite that environment and share that environment, and get the kids involved with creating that culture. And I think these guys did a great job of that this year.”

Kopsco says what has made this season’s preseason so much fun has been the competition – there seems to be multiple positions up for grabs due to some graduation losses, especially on the offense.

“We have a ton of competition this year,” said Kopsco.

“Last year, I think we knew (who our starters would be), and that’s both gratifying and exciting … but this year, all spots are open, so everyone is working hard, everyone is pushing each other and there is no kind of gimme spots.”

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Needham’s 2019 Football Season Outlook

Needham’s 2018 SeasonThe Rockets enjoyed a successful first season under coach Doug Kopsco, winning five of seven regular-season contests along with one postseason game, too.

Their run toward an MIAA D1 South championship concluded in the semifinals with a 35-32 loss to Catholic Memorial, but Needham would close the season on a high note by defeating Wellesley, 14-13, on Thanksgiving Day.

Key DepaturesThe Rockets graduated some key pieces from last year’s offense, including tight end Matt Smith, who will be competing for Duke University this fall.

Jack Murmes, who was also a tight end, will be playing for Assumption College this season, while quarterback Charlie Ogletree will be suiting up for Bentley University.

Players to WatchTyler Reid returns for his final season – the senior tri-captain will be spotted in the backfield at halfback and is someone Kopsco will certainly rely on this season.

Odahri Hibberts returns for his final season – he will be lining up in the slot and at cornerback on defense.

Ryan Villa is back for his final season with the Rockets and will be playing offensive tackle and guard.

Filling the holes on defenseWith just two student-athletes returning on defense with starting experience, Kopsco and his staff will be looking for some new additions this fall to fill all three levels.

“We have on defense have two kids coming back that have starting experience, so it is all wide open,” said Kopsco, “but we have (had holes to fill on defense from previous seasons) and honestly, we ended up with some of our better defenses.”

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Upcoming ScrimmageNeedham will compete against Wayland (the game will be held at Weston) on Friday, August 30th. Kopsco is excited for his team to compete against another squad prior to their initial game of the 2019 season on Friday, September 6th at Natick.

Said Kopsco, “They are always super well-prepared, great coaching staff, and it is a wonderful time to test out where we are at this point of the season … it is a wonderful opportunity to see how much we have taken in so far.”

A challenging opening monthNeedham will certainly be tested in the first few weeks of the season when they compete against Natick (week one) and Tewksbury (week two) and Newton North (week three).

Tewksbury advanced to the MIAA D3 Super Bowl – they lost to Springfield Central at Gillette Stadium – but are expected to once again be a team to beat in Merrimack Valley Conference (MVC).

“We’re excited (about our upcoming games),” said Kopsco. “Natick’s awesome, great coaches and super-well prepared. This is going to be a super-competitive game. We won last year, but they won the year before, so I think it is a good chance to see how we can come out of the gates as a team and a family, and hopefully, we come out on top.

“(Tewksbury) is a great team. This is just a great team. They are very versatile on offense, they give you a lot of different looks, they can do a lot of different things to you, so we just need to (make sure) we’re prepared, ask good questions during the week and we need to make sure everyone knows their assignments.”

Coach Dave Duffy returns to the sidelinesAfter announcing his retirement last summer following a very impressive 19-years of coaching the Rockets, coach Dave Duffy has returned to Needham to help his former squad continue its recent success.

Kopsco is very excited to have his former coach back on the sidelines – he is certainly eager to learn more from him as the season progresses.

“We were very fortunate this year” to have coach Duffy back, explained Kopsco, who played fullback and linebacker for the Rockets before returning to the program as a defensive coordinator.

“I didn’t want to hound him too much, but I really always wanted to work with Roy Johan and Dave Duffy. I am still learning from both of them, (but) they are amazing coaches with 35 years of varsity experience between the two of them alone, so we’re really going to lean on them heavily this year to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.”

Needham’s 2019 Schedule

  • Friday, September 6th – at Natick, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, September 13th – vs. Tewksbury, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, September 20th – vs. Newton North, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, September 27th – at Weymouth, 7 p.m.
  • Friday, October 4th – at Braintree, 7 p.m.
  • Friday, October 18th – vs. Milton, 6 p.m.
  • Friday, October 25th – vs. Walpole, 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, November 28th – at Wellesley, 10 a.m.

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Mass High School Lax Recap: Wellesley Defeats Newton North

By Hayden Bird 

NEWTON, MA – Behind sharp defense and impressive goalkeeping, Wellesley high school’s boys lacrosse defeated Newton North on Wednesday, 7-0.

Wellesley (14-3) appeared to be the stronger team for a majority of the afternoon, but it was the home team, Newton North (11-4), which got the first effort on goal. Although, after the early nerves settled, it was the visitors from Wellesley, who opened the scoring behind midfielder Brian Pedersen.

Within minutes, the Raiders doubled their lead behind another midfielder by the name of Oliver Saffery, who executed a perfect catch and shoot into the lower third of the goal.

“I was really happy with our offense,” said Wellesley head coach Rocky Batty. “They did a couple of the things we’ve been working on for the last few weeks. They clicked a lot more.”

Yet it was Wellesley’s defense which accounted for much of the early success.

“I thought the defense played really well today,” noted Batty. “Guys were coming off the field tired, but that just meant they left it on the field. I thought the entire unit on the defense played big today.”

And even when Newton North managed to snipe a random shot, Wellesley goalie Connor Darcey was ready.

Darcey exhibited his customary versatility against Tigers throughout the game. Still, it was his work as a goalie, which made the difference.

Shot after Newton shot was turned away, and his distribution was well taken too, igniting counterattacks.

But Batty was quick to credit his defense as a whole.

“He is as valuable as the defense in front of him is, and that’s the reality. We weigh them all equally. Connor Darcy’s fantastic, he’ll tell you himself, but he sees shots he can save,” added Batty.

Right at the end of the half, Wellesley exhibited a great move that involved Pedersen, who found John Caraviello, who in-turn found attacker Peter Crane for the score.

The movement came so quickly and fluidly that Crane was nearly wide-open, and he predictably buried the ball in the net, leaving only nine seconds on the clock.

The second half began with renewed vigor from Newton North, who pelted Darcey with a series of shots.

“Newton North is a very, very good team,” said Batty. “They challenged us.”

Darcey, however, was more than up to the challenge, saving time and again.

Even when he turned the ball over after making a save, he immediately made yet another save.

By the end of the third quarter, Wellesley’s momentum was beginning strangle the game. Three goals came in quick succession from Kerry Lyne, Saffery and Pedersen.

The final quarter of play was quiet, with Crane adding one more to round out the scoring at 7-0 before the game ended.

“Were getting there” said Batty afterward. “We’re not there yet though.”

Burnett Leads Needham Past Braintree, 34-2

Mark Riley was a major reason why the Rockets offense overpowered the Wamps defense!

By Brian Willwerth 

MILTON, MA – On a muggy Saturday afternoon at Curry College, the Needham High School football team put on an offensive show.

Senior quarterback Drew Burnett threw four touchdown passes, three of them to fellow senior Mark Riley, as the Rockets blew past Braintree, 34-2, in a Bay State League matchup.

In the first quarter, Needham [2-1] struck first when Burnett threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to senior Dan Pierce. After a Braintree turnover, running back Ian Riley made it 14-0 on the final play of the quarter. The Rockets committed two turnovers themselves in the quarter, including one on the first play from scrimmage, but the Wamps (1-2) were unable to capitalize.

Mark Riley, no relation to Ian, made his presence felt in the second quarter. He was on the receiving end of Burnett’s second TD pass to make it 21-0. Then later in the quarter, Burnett found Riley in the left corner of the endzone to make it 28-0 at the half.

Needham increased its lead to 34-0 when Burnett and Riley hooked up for the third time, this time with Riley splitting two defenders and finding the endzone on a 31-yard strike. The Wamps scored their only points of the game when they blocked the ensuing PAT, and senior Dom Eddings ran it all the way back.  But the Braintree offense was shut out by the Needham defense.

The Rockets will host Weymouth next Saturday, while the Wamps will face Wellesley at Archbishop Williams High School.