Even before the 30th annual Island Cup game began on Saturday, things didn’t look good for the visiting Whalers from Nantucket.
When the players in blue and white stormed the field before the game and tried to plant their flag, the wooden mast snapped in half and the Whalers’ banner fell onto the ground.
Things only got worse for the Whalers after that.
The Vineyard exploded for 28 second quarter points, all fueled by Nantucket turnovers, to put the game out of reach early en route to a 48-6 drubbing.
The game was close through the first quarter, as the Vineyard scored only one touchdown on a six-yard run by running back Josh Paulson. Nantucket even recovered a fumble and drove to the Vineyard 40-yard line with a chance to tie the game, but the drive promptly stalled out. It was the Whalers’ best and only chance to make the game interesting.
Even though the Whalers came into the game with a bare bones roster of just 21 players, coach Vito Capizzo had his team come out throwing and used four and five wide receiver sets to try and confuse the Vineyard secondary.
But the strategy backfired as both Jwann Johnson and Jeff Osborne picked off quarterback Chris Welch in the first quarter, and Coach Capizzo later switched to a simpler I formation on offense that is more conducive to running the ball.
After Osborne’s interception, the Vineyard methodically drove down the field on runs by Paulson and junior Cody Brewer, who started the game in place of the injured Eric Dolliver (who did play some in the second half). The ten-play drive was capped by a ten-yard run by quarterback Mike McCarthy, and the point after by kicker Zach Coutinho gave the Vineyard a 14-0 advantage with 6:49 left in the quarter.
On the Whaler’s next play from scrimmage, quarterback Chris Welch fired across the flat into the waiting arms of linebacker Nick Gross, who took the ball 24 yards for a touchdown. The cowbells in the stand exploded, and with the score 21-0 it already seemed like the game was over.
On the ensuing kickoff, the return man for the Whalers failed to field the ball, letting it bounce into the arms of Vineyard defensive back Anthony Cardoza at the 25-yard line. The Vineyard offense then pushed back the Whalers defense as if it were on a greased treadmill, ripping off runs of 10 yards, 13 yards and then a two-yard touchdown run by Paulson.
Just like that, the Vineyard had scored 21 points in less than 90 seconds for a 28-0 lead.
The Whalers fumbled again on the next drive, and the ball was recovered by the Vineyard’s Zach Maciel. McCarthy then hit Nick Viera for 19 yards followed by a 14-yard pass to Paulson for a touchdown. Coutinho — who was 6 for 7 on kicks for the day — kicked the point after to give the Vineyarders a 35-0 lead at the half.
The halftime statistics told the story of the Vineyard’s dominance. They had 162 rushing yards in the half compared to the Whaler’s nine, while Nantucket had two fumbles and two interceptions, all of which led to Vineyard touchdowns.
As one person in the stands succinctly put it, the only way Nantucket was going home with the cup was if they came over to the sidelines and took it.
The rout continued in the second half, as the Whalers tried an unsuccessful on-sides kick giving the Vineyard the ball at midfield. Coach Herman called off the dogs, switching to a huddle on offense to slow the pace while starting to empty his bench.
But the changes had little effect, as the Vineyarders scored six plays later when McCarthy faked a pass and ran up the middle for a 19-yard touchdown to give his team a 42-0 lead. As if things weren’t bad enough, Coach Capizzo was knocked to the ground on the Whalers’ next possession when a group of players spilled onto the sideline.
“My pride is hurt more than anything. I never saw him coming,” he said after the game.
The Vineyard scored for the final time late in the fourth quarter when third stringer Liam O’Callahan scrambled off tackle for an eight-yard touchdown to make it 48-0.
The Whalers prevented the shutout when David Loveberry broke free for 43 yards with 2:53 left in the contest. But the Vineyarders blocked the extra point for a final score of 48-6.
With the win, the Vineyard continued a recent string of dominance over Nantucket in the storied rivalry. They have now won five Island Cups in a row and eight out of the last nine. The win also meant the Vineyard climbed to 9-2 on the season, but still missed the playoffs by one game.
The Vineyard can still tie for the Mayflower Large title, but will lose to Blue Hills in every tiebreaker possible for a postseason berth.
For the second year in a row, the Vineyard set new records for scoring in the Island Cup. The 48 points were the most points ever scored by either team, and the 42-point margin of victory shattered the previous record.
Asked after the game if he pulled a Bill Belichick — the head coach of the New England Patriots accused of running up the score this season — Coach Herman seemed genuinely surprised at his team’s prolific big scoring day.
“We weren’t going to play any differently in the first half . . . as for that last touchdown [in the fourth quarter] I’m still surprised. You can’t tell the kids not to get in the end zone, that’s their job,” he said.
Ever the perfectionist, Coach Herman guardedly praised his team’s effort following the game.
“It wasn’t a perfect game, that’s for sure. We had some dumb penalties and some bad turnovers in the first half . . . but overall the kids played well,” he said.
The coach was more complimentary when reflecting on his team’s recent success in the Island Cup.
“The players were aware of what was on the line and they responded. This team had a lot of seniors, so it was an emotional win for the kids playing their last game [as Vineyarders]. They were part of a team that has now won five straight [Island Cups] . . . they made history today.”
Paulson finished the game with three touchdowns, two on the ground and one on a reception, and McCarthy ran for two and threw for a third to lead the Vineyarders.
Following the game Paulson said the rivalry was as strong as ever, despite the recent string of Vineyard dominance.
“They won it seven years in a row and now it’s our turn. But they’ll be back, they are just going through a drought,” he said.
Paulson said the win was the perfect way to end his high school football career.
“I’ve been in this game for three years, and we’ve won it three years, so I feel I have been lucky. It feels good to walk off this field today after beating [Nantucket],” he said.