You don't have to be a fan of high school football to understand the rare chemistry that can transform a team and a sporting event.

The Vineyarders not only beat arch rival Nantucket 14-6 on Saturday for the Mayflower league championship and their first play-off berth ever, but they managed to produce two big plays and hold the line against an intimidating opponent with a spirit that doesn't come along very often.

Time ran out on Nantucket's constant threat with Tom Wood's interception, the cannons fired and the field was flooded with people. The Island cup came home again for the third time since John BacheIler first proposed the trophy in 1978. John Gonsalves, Cameron Cuch and Shavaha Gates, three graduating seniors, embraced in the uproar.

"We showed them where it's at. Jeremiah Burke here we come," John Gonsalves said above the din.

"Four years together and we're all brothers now," Cameron Cuch shouted.

Quarterback Jason Dyer, a junior, could hardly speak.

"I knew we were going to be tested. But I didn't want it to end," he said.

It doesn't. Two extra weeks of practice and Martha's Vineyard meets Jeremiah Burke of Jamaica Plain at White Stadium on Dec. 7 for the Division 5-South title. There is no super bowl this year due to a change voted by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association last year. This year there are two division champs.

But the game Saturday was its own super bowl and plainly put, a great football game.

Nantucket came on with a powerful running game. The skull and cross-bone flew on the Nantucket side and halfbacks Chad Michetti and Aaron Fox and fullback Fred Tilman seemed able to drive through the line for solid gains at will. Vineyard coach Donald Herman was asked after the game if he was worried for the first half.

"I was worried the whole damn game," he said.

Nantucket's game was on the ground, and stayed there. The few forward passes Nantucket quarterback Chris Frame threw ended up in Vineyard hands more often than in his teammates'. But the Whaler offensive and defensive lines were tough and looked like they might dominate.

But Dyer and split end Shavaha Gates used their wits and speed 4:39 into the game and connected for a 71- yard pass for the touchdown.

"I saw the defensive back slip, and I knew if I got it up there he would get under it," Dyer said.

Dyer threw it up a good 40 yards, Gates just took off along the right sideline, and the Vineyard was the first team on the board. When the Vineyard exploded out of the trenches deep in their own territory to score, the crowd of some 4,000 fans knew anything was possible.

But the point after kick was wide and Nantucket came right back, driving downfield into the second quarter and then the end zone. The Vineyard's John Gonsalves came up with a key play, stopping Michetti's conversion attempt and preventing a Nantucket lead. It was a 6-6 game, and a very edgy one at that.

Nantucket threatened some more: Dyer was sacked, Nantucket had the ball at midfield and just kept running through the line. But the defensive line was hustling and Nantucket, at fourth and long, tried to put the ball in the air for the first time, only to see it knocked down by Mark Matta.

With 1:30 left in the half the Vineyard took possession at midfield. Dyer rolled out, past the 50-yard line and out of bounds to stop the clock.

The Vineyard is not a team that runs plays by rote. Coach Herman is an imaginative coach and his team thinks on its feet. This, combined with a remarkable esprit de corps, means a team that can capitalize at any time, often turning mistakes in its favor.

Dyer rolled out again, pumped once and floated the ball to Albie Robinson in the end zone. Dyer has a knack for throwing the ball on the run, and in this case just inches from the line of scrimmage. Robinson's coverage — Chris Frame — just lost his man and Dyer saw it.

Then Cameron Cuch gave the Vineyard a key psychological edge, running a slant formation into the end zone and catching the ball for the 2-point conversion. The half ended with the score 14-6, and it held up all the way.

The second half may have been scoreless, but the threat was always there. The Vineyard came back out with an adjustment on the defensive line that slowed the Whalers, and Nantucket was forced into an uncomfortable passing situation — throwing into interceptions by Cuch and Wood, seeing throws knocked down by Matta, Gonsalves and Robinson.

As time ground down on the final quarter the running game began to work against Nantucket. With 6 minutes to play the Whalers finally completed a pass but it was called back for illegal motion and a key play turned into a punt.

Nantucket got one last chance with 3 minutes left to play. A host of Vineyarders led by Gonsalves and Ian Araujo sacked Frame to put the pressure on, but Michetti got the first down inside Vineyard territory. With 1:32 to play Nantucket was huddling up. Two pass plays were incomplete and then with 58 seconds Tom Wood's interreception put it all to rest.

Coach Herman has brought this team a long way in his four years on the Island, and now has two wins in four outings against Nantucket. It was the 43rd meeting of these two teams and one of the best games ever.

Coach Herman went to midfield to take back the Island trophy.

"Vito said, 'You played a hell of a game,' " Coach Herman said, giving credit to his rival.

"He's tremendous. If you can't respect what he has been able to accomplish then there's something wrong," he said.

And of course there is the Vineyard team. They have not only won a game, but they did it with a flair that is more than the sum of its players. They tapped the magic.

And there is another game to come.