After winning the 26th annual Island Cup and clinching the Mayflower Large League title last Saturday, the Vineyarders now advance to the playoffs, where they will compete for a spot in the Division VI superbowl.
The playoff game is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 4 p.m. at White Stadium in Franklin Park, south of Boston. The Vineyarders will face East Boston, which defeated South Boston 36-16 in a game played yesterday.
The Vineyarders last reached the superbowl in 2001, when they lost to Marian.
Saturday's 20-7 win over the Whalers was a game marked by strong defensive play, including two interceptions and a blocked punt that put the Vineyarders in position to score.
On the back line, junior Andrew Farrissey notched nine tackles; senior J.D. Wild eight tackles, and senior James Rebello seven tackles and an interception. Wild also ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
The Island Cup is by now a rivalry of homeric proportions. Coming into Saturday's game, Nantucket led the series (which officially began in 1960, predating the creation of the cup) 34-18-2.
In 2002 the Whalers took the cup away from the Vineyarders, who previously held the trophy for three consecutive years. The 20-25 loss marked the end of the Vineyarders' season.
This year the stakes were the same: both the cup and a ticket to the playoffs. The Vineyarders came in with a 9-1 record, the Whalers 7-2. Both were undefeated in league play.
Though Saturday was mild, the wind that whipped across the field was bone-chilling. The fans came hatted and gloved and layered in purple and white. They packed the stands and stood three and four-deep along the sidelines. With the clarion call of their cowbells they announced to Nantucket: We are ready.
What followed was a game marked by big defensive plays, the biggest of which came three minutes into the fourth quarter. The Whalers, down by a touchdown and deep in their own territory, were trying to resurrect an offense that so far had been shut down by the Vineyarders.
Nantucket opened the drive with an 11-yard gain that brought them to the 26 yard line. First down, Whaler quarterback Ryan Sosebee threw a lateral for a short gain. On second down, he tried again.
Sosebee was dangerous. Over the course of the season he had proved his aim to be true, his passes sharp. But Coach Donald Herman had prepared his Vineyarders for this.
In the days before the game they had scouted against the pass. For the first time Coach Herman had brought in some of his former players, players who had graduated as long ago as 1993. They practiced with the defense and worked on reading the pass, anticipating the quarterback.
Second down, and Sosebee fired into the wind. Suddenly it was the Vineyard's own Rebello who had the ball, who had picked it off and was running it back for 22 breathless yards.
First and 10 on the Nantucket 14.
"It was the play that turned the game," Coach Herman said afterward.
Two downs later, running back Wild carried 12 yards for his second touchdown.
Wild's first score came midway through the second quarter. Left back Adam Petkus had intercepted a Whaler pass to set up the four-minute drive.
On their first offensive play, Wild swept left for 39 yards. Then quarterback Hans Buder connected with John Valley for a 28-yard gain. With the Vineyard first and goal, Wild took the ball six yards for the touchdown. E.J. Sylvia's kick put them up 7-0.
After the half, both teams had a frustrating third quarter. Nantucket received the opening kickoff, but fumbled on the first play of the drive. The Vineyard recovered the ball, but did nothing, allowing Nantucket to take over on downs.
Possession changed several more times and was back in Vineyard hands when fans saw the weirdest play of the game: On fourth down, a Kyle Robertson punt into the wind landed near the sideline. Whaler John Farrell watched the ball skip forward as if daring it to touch him. When it actually did, just grazing his foot, Valley fell on the ball so fast it took even the referees a moment to realize what had happened: Vineyard ball, first and 10 on their 25 yard line.
In the fourth quarter, soon after the second Wild touchdown, the Vineyard delivered a final blow. Defensive end Zack Mahoney, who had sacked Sosebee a play earlier, blocked Nantucket's punt on fourth down. He went on to catch Buder's nine-yard pass for a touchdown.
With less than 30 seconds in the game and the score 20-0, Sosebee managed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Santos. But the Whalers saw their comeback dreams slip away when the Vineyard recovered Nantucket's onsides kick. The offense took a knee, and the Island Cup was theirs.
"We just wore them down," Coach Herman said afterward. "We gave them the wind in the third quarter, and we knew if we could withstand that push, we'd be in good shape.
"It was the first time Nantucket had shown a no-huddle offense," he added. "They tried to cause some confusion, but our kids did a tremendous job adjusting. Afterward the coach came into our locker room and congratulated us, said he hoped we'd go and win it all."
A free fan bus to the playoff game will leave Tuesday on the 1:30 p.m. boat. Sign-ups will be Monday, first-come, first-served, between 10:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. in the high school cafeteria.