NEEDHAM — The oldest public high school football rivalry in America featured two committed antagonists battling each other and the elements.
Needham’s defense forced three turnovers, contained Wellesley twice on fourth down and stuffed a two-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter to prevail 14-13 yesterday at frigid, wind-swept Memorial Field.
Needham improved to 7-4 while Wellesley dropped to 5-6 in a heated Thanksgiving collaboration that dates back to Nov. 30, 1882, and was contested for the 131st time. Needham snapped a three-game losing streak but Wellesley leads the series 62-60-9.
“This was a complete game where the offense ground it out and the defense stepped up and made a play when we needed it,” said first-year coach Doug Kopsco, a Needham alum who replaced the legendary Dave Duffy.
“I love our defense the way they hustle for the ball but it was a total team effort.”
Needham recovered two fumbles in the first half and went into the break up 7-0 on a 9-yard touchdown run by workhorse tailback Tyler Reid with 9:31 to play in the second quarter.
Wellesley tied the game on its first snap of the second half. Slick tailback Shiloh White ran behind right tackle, burst through the secondary and went 65 yards for a touchdown with 10:43 to play.
The Raiders’ euphoria was short-lived when Duke-bound wide receiver Matt Smith returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to put the Rockets up 14-7.
Wellesley cut the lead to 14-13 on a 20-yard go route from quarterback Maalik Sinclair to wide receiver Hugh Callahan with 5:01 to play in the game. Raiders coach Jesse Davis elected to go for two but Sinclair’s shuffle pass was stuffed short of the goal line.
“We were trying to win it and I have full confidence in my kids, but Needham made a good play at the goal line,” Davis said.