As we continue our look at the 2019 Needham Rockets heading into Thanksgiving I had a chance again this year to catch up with Chris Dugan, sports producer at the Needham Channel to get his take on the 2019 Rockets season as well as the Thanksgiving tilt. Here’s a look at what he had to say!
Q: Needham obviously has struggled this season as they come in 2-8. What have you seen from the 2019 Rockets this season on the strengths/weaknesses front?
A: This has definitely been a rebuilding year for the Rockets after graduating their most talented class since the 2011 group that went to the Super Bowl. With that said, their main weakness that has affected them has been their inexperience. Many of the starters and other players in big roles had limited or no varsity experience before this year. I give kudos to them and the coaching staff because there has been notable improvement on both sides of the ball as the season has gone on, so the effort is clearly there. Their perseverance through a tough season might be their biggest strength. It is hard for any team to go from the success they had last year to the struggles they have experienced in 2019, but they still show up and compete on every play.
Q: Who are the key players for Needham this season, that we should be watching out for?
A: Key players on offense are captains Odahri Hibberts and Tyler Reid. Both have breakaway speed. With Matt Smith at Duke now, the 3-headed monster from last year is down to 2 so teams have been able to focus more attention on both of them. They are still plenty capable of busting out a big play. On defense, Matt Hood has been phenomenal on the defensive line. He’s one of those players that just seems to be everywhere – coming up with a big sack, batting down passes, and blocking field goals.
Q: What does Needham need to do to get a win and extend their win streak to 2?
A: If Needham wants to win and pull off the Thanksgiving “upset,” I think they need a big game from their offensive line. It sounds cliche and seems easy, but when the Rockets have struggled up front in games, things tend to spiral out of control. Also, I think a lot of people might be expecting Wellesley to roll in this one. The Raiders only had one loss in the regular season and are playing at home this year. However, if Needham can get a quick start, I think it puts a lot of pressure on Wellesley and will help the young guys for the Rockets play loose. If I’m Needham, I’m not afraid to get creative on offense.
Q: On the flip side, what does Wellesley need to do if they want to avenge last year’s loss to the Rockets?
A: If Wellesley can get pressure on QB Will McDonald early and often, I think that’s big trouble for Needham. I’ve been impressed by McDonald’s progress throughout the season. His one downfall is that he tends to hold on to the ball too long when he’s getting pressured, which leads to some big sacks instead of just throwing the ball away.
Q: On a personal note this is your 6th Thanksgiving game as Needham Channel sports director, is there one particular moment/game that stands out for you from your time covering this rivalry?
A: Obviously the Fenway game in 2015 always stands out. The atmosphere was tremendous. Usually high school games at professional venues don’t feel as loud, which takes away from one of the best parts of high school sports. However, I remember the Fenway game was packed with fans in the lower sections and still loud (even though we were up top in the pavilion seats filming). It was an instant classic. Defensive game all the way through, and Needham’s two clutch goal line stands were special. I still get chills from Joe Gowetski’s 100-yard pick-6. Also, last year is another game that stands out – not just because of the record cold temps. It was another defensive battle and Matt Smith had the game winning kick return TD. Smith is one of the best athletes I’ve had the chance to cover at Needham so to see him have his Thanksgiving moment in his last high school football game was super cool.