Football Team Looks to Super Bowl: Island Varsity Wins Divisional Trophy In Home Game
By JOSHUA SABATINI
After rolling to a 24-point margin in their first home playoff game ever, it's little wonder if the Vineyarders marched off the field with only one thing on their minds. As the game clock ticked off the final seconds of Martha's Vineyard's 36-12 win over West Roxbury Tuesday night, the almost 2,000 Island fans in attendance chanted "Super Bowl! Super Bowl!"
Surrounded by his banged-up warriors at midfield, Coach Donald Herman - clad in a white sweater rather than his usual black and purple warm-up jacket - displayed his 1999 Super Bowl ring, representing high school football's holy grail. The coach told his players that now was their chance to reach for the glory.
The Islanders will face Marian High School of Framingham in the Division 6 championship game, set for 12:30 p.m. tomorrow in Allston, at Boston University's Nickerson Field. The champions of the Catholic Central Small league earned the Super Bowl berth with a 29-0 win over Georgetown.
The Mustangs' last championship appearance came in a 1998 loss to Pope John. Last year, Vineyard lost in the title contest for the first time, to Bellingham, 35-6, having won four Super Bowls between 1991 and 1999.
Marian will face an Island squad coming off a high-intensity game full of big hits. On Tuesday night, Vineyard showed a versatility most high school coaches could only dream about, with contributions from its offense, defense and special teams.
One of the biggest plays of the game came at the start, when Ben Gunn began his all-around spectacular night by returning the opening kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown. Gunn then brought the ball into the end zone for the subsequent two-point conversion.
Up 8-0, the Vineyarders took the field aiming to block the Raiders' running game. At first, the team from Boston pounded the ball downfield and, about five minutes and five first downs later, were on the Island's 11-yard line.
But Vineyard's defense, led by Mac Schilcher with 13 tackles and James Cimeno with 12, remained steadfast, forcing West Roxbury to give up the ball on downs.
It was a sign of things to come for the Raiders, who would pick up only two more first downs before the fourth quarter, when the Island defense rested some starters.
Vineyard came out passing in the second quarter. Senior quarterback Keith Crossland led the team from its own 27-yard line, and in only 48 seconds and four plays increased the lead to 14. Crossland hit Gunn with a 7-yard pass, then Eric McCarthy for 11.
On first and 10, Gunn crossed the middle and received Crossland's perfect spiral for a 29-yard gain. With the Raider defense reeling in the wake of the drive, Crossland handed off to J.D. Wild, who sped 29 yards for a touchdown - one of his six carries for 93 yards.
Playing in just the first half, Crossland's 6-for-7 passing rang up 147 yards and two touchdowns; Vineyard's aerial attack plainly took the heart out of the Raiders. West Roxbury coach Leo Sybertz later said the passing game had proved to be more than his club could handle.
There were no such surprises for Coach Herman.
"They just said [they] were going to stop [our] run," the coach said. "I don't think they have seen a team in their league that has thrown the ball like we are capable of throwing. We knew that going in.
"They gave us so many opportunities to throw the football," he added. "We made some nice passes. Everything was clicking and we were on."
With a 14-0 lead, the Vineyarders didn't let up. Crossland hit an open Dan Greenberg with a 5-yard touchdown pass, the receiver's first score of the season. The drive was highlighted by a 41-yard Crossland pass to Gunn, who kicked the extra point for a 21-0 lead.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, the half was not yet over. The Vineyarders regained possession after a West Roxbury punt and began on the Raiders 48-yard line. On the first play, Crossland threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Gunn, one of his three receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown.
Gunn shone even on a botched extra-point attempt. After the snap flew over his head, he ran back, picked up the ball and threw to McCarthy in the end zone. The Vineyarders went into the half 29-0.
Once the Island's offense took possession of the ball in the third quarter, it switched to a running attack led by Wild and Tim Higgins. Wild had a 55-yard run and Higgins finished the march downfield with a 1-yard touchdown run. Gunn's extra point was good for Vineyard's final score of the game.
With the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, West Roxbury's Deyonman Nelson put the Raiders on the board with touchdowns of 25 and 2 yards.
Coach Herman said the scores did not detract from his defense's performance. "It was late and we were subbing people in and out," he said.
Coach Sybertz said he was proud of his team's effort.
"They played as hard as they could. They just made too many mistakes," he said. "We are a little weak in some areas. I think it showed up today.
"They all gave their very best effort," he added. "We had a great week of practice. Nobody practiced longer or harder than we did."
Vineyard athletic director Paul Harrison said fans who are interested in taking van buses to the game should meet at the Vineyard Haven ferry terminal tomorrow at 8 a.m.