It’s show time.
No, not the NBC special on the Vineyard high school football team that will air nationally twice next month, though the Island football community got a kick out of NBC camera crews trailing every facet of practice, the locker room, then filming a solid 35-20 win over bulky Hull High School last Friday.
“Preseason’s over. The league starts on Friday,” said junior inside linebacker Cody Brewer while organizing his derby fishing gear on Saturday morning after the game.
The road to the Super Bowl begins with a homecoming game against undefeated Blue Hills Regional High School at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High tonight at 6 p.m. The high school’s homecoming king and queen will be crowned at halftime. Both teams are 5-0 coming into the contest.
Cody and his teammates have been able to focus on football despite the distractions of network film crews. NBC is preparing two 30-minute segments and two 45-second promotional segments that will air Nov. 11 and 18. The network will show a promotional spot at halftime each week to lead viewers to an online 30-minute segment following the Sunday night games. A different promo and 30-minute segment will be aired each week. High Schools in Ohio, Texas and South Carolina are among the featured teams.
Mr. Herman noted that the importance of the game tonight and the added national media attention which attracted more than 1,000 people last week to Hull, will make the stadium electric at kickoff. “Tell folks to get here early,” he said, adding:
“The network really researched the country for interesting and good teams. We were fortunate to be one of eight schools nationally to be chosen. I think they were fascinated by the idea of a team from an Island that takes a boat before it takes a bus to its games. And Hull’s stadium is on a hill overlooking the ocean.”
Vineyard football was featured on national television some years ago with a segment airing at halftime of a nationally-televised University of Notre Dame game.
The Vineyarders are favored against Blue Hills but Coach Herman is not looking past them. “This game could be for the league title. If we win, we control our own destiny. If we don’t, then we need help from somebody else, in fact, from two teams, even if we win the last five games after Friday,” he said.
The game is shaping up as a battle of the titans with the Vineyarders awarded a number one ranking in division three this week by the Boston Herald’s statewide poll and Blue Hills close behind at number four. Also Blue Hills back Jerry Nelson and Vineyarder Josh Paulson are one and two in Mayflower League scoring. Finally, the Vineyard is ranked 51 and Blue Hills 53 among high school football teams in the state by The Boston Globe.
Mr. Herman, in his 19th season with five victories in seven Super Bowl appearances since 1988, is experienced at focusing his teams on the task at hand. Last week, however, was an additional challenge. “The kids did a great job dealing with the distraction of national television film crews following their every move,” he said.
From Wednesday through Friday last week, a 17-member NBC crew was in the Vineyarders’ locker and weight rooms, in the coach’s office, at practice and finally at the Hull football field filming on a hilltop with the Atlantic ocean as a game backdrop.
Paced by senior back Paulson’s 92 rushing yards and three touchdowns and by three touchdown passes (one to Paulson) by junior quarterback Mike McCarthy in an efficient four for nine long ball passing attack for 126 yards, the purple and white gave the cameramen plenty to focus on for their halftime shows. Other prime time players included placekicker Zach Coutinho with a perfect five for five extra points, sophomore Erik Dolliver’s five-yard touchdown run and Mike O’Donaghue’s 33-yard touchdown reception.
And two different Vineyard defenders have recorded double-digit tackles over the past two weeks. Matt Lucier won the Herald’s division three defensive player of the week last week with 11 tackles. Jeff Osborn recorded 14 tackles this week.
“Both are linebackers so they’re supposed to make a lot of tackles but double digit tackles are pretty significant,” Mr. Herman said. Defensively, the smaller Vineyard team did not make stopping Mike Bilodeau, Hull’s 235-pound fullback, a priority but focused instead on shutting down the passing game led by six-foot-three-inch lefty quarterback Tyler Pari. Bilodeau had 92 rushing yards and a costly fumble on the Vineyarders’ two-yard line.
Sure-handed tackling will also be key against Blue Hills. While star back Nelson rested a sore ankle in the Blue Hills win, substitute tailback Jose Santiago recorded 132 yards and two touchdowns in his first 20 carries of the season in a 14-13 grinder against defending division four champion East Bridgewater.
Coach Herman is relieved to have two top players back after injuries. Defensive end and tight end Bubba Brown returns to the defense after missing two weeks with a leg injury and defensive back and running back Matt Costello returns from a shoulder injury which also cost him two weeks.
The Vineyarders are not a bulky bunch but that’s a non-issue for Coach Herman, who grew up in Georgia watching speed-oriented University of Georgia football. “Size isn’t an issue here. Speed kills. Give me a fast athletic kid over a big slow kid every time,” he said.
He plans to keep fresh legs in front of Blue Hills all night tonight.