The couldashouldawoulda’s are a week old now but the fact is the Vineyarders are still in the mix for a league title and a trip to their eighth Super Bowl despite a frustrating 8-6 loss to Blue Hills Regional Vocational Technical High School last Friday night.
That’s the way another coach in the Mayflower League sees it after watching the Vineyarders dominate everything but the score. Jeff Cziska, offensive line coach at Southeastern Regional High School, thinks the league is still up for grabs, with the outcome of tonight’s tilt between Blue Hills and Southeastern a key element.
Mr. Cziska, on the Island scouting the Vineyard-Blue Hills game, said “the league title game could be played here on Nov. 3” between Southeastern and the Vineyarders. For that to happen, the Island gridders would need help. The best route would be Southeastern, now 5-0, beating Blue Hills, then the Vineyarders beating Southeastern.
In the event of a tie for the title, the Vineyarders would be a Super Bowl pick since both Blue Hills and Southeastern have been to the Division 3-A classic more recently.
In comments last week, needing help to win the league was a scenario Vineyarders’ coach Don Herman had hoped to avoid.
But shortly after Julie Perry had sung the national anthem a cappella, Blue Hills bulled its way down field to a score and two-point conversion, eating yardage in five and 10-yard bursts up the middle. That was their first and last sustained drive of the night. Coach Herman and the defense manned up in the middle and forced Blue Hills into sweeps and pitches thereafter, which the quicker and more athletic Vineyarders defended successfully.
Linebackers Matt Lucier and Jeff Osborn particularly got the sweep timing down and were able to get inside several times to blow up Blue Hills running backs with pad-popping hits for losses.
But Vineyard offense was off-pitch, unlike Ms. Perry, a senior at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, who nailed the high C note in the national anthem. Fumbles, poor snap exchanges, dropped passes and a couple of penalties had Island coaches’ knees buckling and their eyes rolling skyward. Frustration was the word of the day for about four hundred Vineyard fans.
The Vineyarders kicked off to open the game and Blue Hills probed the middle with runs of nine yards, seven yards and three yards from Jerry Nelson and Riley Mello. The defense began to adjust and shut down the middle, forcing an attempted punt inside Blue Hills territory. A fumbled snap from center gave the Vineyard the ball inside the forty yard line where it was fumbled back to Blue Hills on the first play. Blue Hills’ Mello had seven yards up the middle. Jose Santiago was stuffed for no gain but a fifteen yard face mask penalty moved the ball to the Vineyarders’ 23 yard line. Blue Hills then began to mix outside running with the middle game as Vineyarder Bubba Brown made his return from injury apparent inside. Blue Hills decoyed featured back Riley Mello on this series and Jim Leear rambled right for an 11 yard touchdown, then dove in from the right side for the two point conversion.
The Vineyarders, aided by a 15 yard face mask penalty on the ensuing kickoff, went down the field behind Paulson, Lucier and Nick Gross carries, combining off-tackle runs, pitches and sweeps. Paulson picked up a key first down inside the Blue Hills 10 yard line with an athletic move reaching back for a pitch behind him, then getting around the corner. On the third play of the second quarter, Paulson went two yards for a touchdown through a left side hole that looked wider than the Katama breach. A fumbled snap ended a two-point conversion try and the scoring for the evening. Paulson had 79 yards on 11 carries for the night.
After the Vineyarder score, the ensuing kickoff to the Blue Hills 15 yard line was returned to the 34 yard line and Coach Vin Hickey, who had many two-way players, began shuttling backs in and out, giving sweep and slant carries to Leear and Mello and straight ahead carries to Nelson, who was not at peak form with a hampering ankle injury.
The Vineyarder defense was in rhythm though and Matt Lucier annihilated a sweep right for a loss in the backfield on fourth and one. Junior Vineyarder quarterback Mike McCarthy came out throwing, but missing several receivers long. An excellent punt by Lucier pinned Blue Hills in their own territory where the Vineyarder defense shut down the running game. However, a penalty for too many men on the field on fourth down gave Blue Hills a first down and had the Island coaching staff looking heavenward for answers to the mysterious brain cramp in a no-brainer situation.
A hint to the answer may have come a minute later when the public address announcer told the fans that Complex Humans were to be the featured band at the Outerland homecoming dance on Saturday night.
The Vineyarder defense caught fire in the first half and names like Cody Brewer, Finn Kaeka, Ben Rossi, Nick Gross, Kevin O’Donnell, Tyler Moreis and Duncan Meyst were being announced for tackles along with Jeff Osborn and Matt Lucier and a tremendous return performance by Bubba Brown who in the second half would string out a sweep for a loss, then block a punt on successive plays.
The Vineyarders were nimbler, had better skills and dominated the game, particularly on defense. “The Vineyard is just pounding on them, beating them up. I think they’ll win it in the second half,” a veteran Vineyarder fan declared at halftime, watching as homecoming queen Amanda Brown and her king and cousin Bubba Brown (number 88 on your scorecard) toured the field in a vintage deep purple Plymouth white walled convertible. Certainly it looked like a good prediction but the game within the game dictated otherwise.
In the second half, four or five near misses including a dead-center perfect field goal try that fell two feet short and a potential touchdown pass dancing like a butterfly on, then off, the fingertips of a receiver in the end zone offset a very good offensive show by McCarthy and cohorts. Clearly, Blue Hills’ strategy was to keep the Vineyarders’ offense on the sidelines for the second half, leading the Blue Hills coach to abandon a conservative running game plan and call for a fourth and one pass in his own territory. “A career call right there,” murmured Mr. Cziska.
Blue Hills quarterback Dave Shea threw a dying quail just caught on a comeback dive to keep Blue Hills’ offense on the field and the Vineyarders on the bench. The teams counter punched for the remainder of the game, using misdirection and belly series on running plays trying to pop a long run. McCarthy found the passing range, tossing tight, quality spirals, including a beautiful 12-yard crossing pattern to Paulson, threading two defenders. McCarthy was five for 11 for 55 yards in the game.
But not enough right things at the right time and too many wrong things at the wrong time created what coaches like to call a character-builder.
“We had plenty of chances,” Coach Herman said Monday. “Defensively, we played well enough to win. There wasn’t a let-down from TV (NBC filmed the team for three days last week). We just didn’t play well.
“The only thing we can do now is take care of ourselves. There is a possibility (of a league title and a Super Bowl appearance). We’re down but not out,” he added.
The Vineyarders may be without center Christian Flanders (knee) and defensive end Kenny Watkins (ankle) this week, an away game at Cape Tech in Harwich at 1 p.m. tomorrow.