The Vineyarders are off and running.
And running. And running some more.
Featuring an unrelenting rushing attack and with several key defensive plays, including a decisive turnover with less than a minute to play, the Vineyard football team rumbled past Carver's Crusaders, 21-14, in their season opener Friday night in Carver.
"Wow, what a way to start the year," head coach Donald Herman said with a laugh afterward. "That was an exciting game."
Wingback Tristen Atwood rushed for 113 yards on seven carries and scored two touchdowns, and fullback Kyle Robertson ran for 59 yards with a score of his own as the Vineyarders pounded the ball for more than 250 total rushing yards. Defensive backs Ryan Rossi (two interceptions) and John Swan (one interception) along with linebacker Andrew Kahl (fumble recovery) highlighted a defensive squad that shut down Carver's passing game. Linebacker Anthony Sullo led the Vineyarders' defense with nine tackles.
Swan snatched the critical pick with 19 seconds left in the game, ending a last-minute Carver drive to seal the victory.
"I'm surprised they threw the ball in that situation with the success they had with their running back," Coach Herman said. "I thought they'd keep it on the ground."
The game began with an observation.
Assistant coach Dan Rossi and Coach Herman noticed something peculiar about the Carver quarterback's footwork during pregame warm-ups. "After the snap, he would turn to his left when he was throwing left, and would turn to his right when he was throwing right," Coach Rossi said. "It was a total tip-off."
The hard-charging Vineyard offense kept the ball on the ground throughout the game, pounding a defense that struggled to contain Atwood and Robertson. The two backs consistently exploded through the Carver defensive line and into the secondary, moving the chains with persistent advances of ten, fifteen, sometimes twenty yards.
The Vineyarders' offensive line, led by 335-pound center Gustavo "Goose" Simoes and 275-pound tackle Nathan Larsen, provided more than enough girth to clear the running lanes. Several critical holding calls that prevented the Vineyarders from further scoring marred what Coach Herman called an overall decent job.
"We had a couple of breakdowns that almost came back to bite us," he said. "But our offensive line will continue to get better."
Carver featured an equally potent running game built around tailback Michael Grant, who slashed and churned through the Vineyard defense as he rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot 3-inch, 190-pound junior, called one of the fastest runners in the state by Carver coaches, averaged almost 17 yards per carry.
"He may be the best back we will see all year," Coach Herman said. "At least I'm hoping he is the best back we'll see. He was real quick."
The Vineyarders led throughout most of the contest, but had to fend off a Carver charge in the fourth quarter. Trailing 21-6, the Crusaders marched down the field behind the slashing Grant, who scampered into the end zone from five yards out with just 4:23 left in the game. A successful two-point conversion made it 21-14, and after stopping the Vineyard on the next four plays, Carver regained possession of the ball on their own 46-yard line with two minutes remaining.
The Crusaders once more rolled down the field, again riding on the back of Grant. But with a third down and seven yards to go, Swan intercepted a Carver pass on the Vineyard's own 15-yard line with 19 seconds left.
It was the third Vineyard interception of the game.
"We had to stop them, and we did," Coach Herman said. "It was big."
Carver opened the scoring on the first drive of the game. Grant broke several long runs before ending the drive with a touchdown, but the Vineyard blocked the extra point to keep it at 6-0.
The Vineyard stormed right back. Atwood and Robertson led the way to the Vineyarders' first touchdown with Atwood running into the end zone from six yards out for the score. Junior E.J. Sylvia kicked the extra point for the 7-6 lead.
Rossi intercepted Carver's first pass attempt of the game on the next drive. Another Vineyard running assault, culminating with a fourth-and-one touchdown run by Atwood, made it 14-6 at halftime.
Another Rossi interception in the third quarter led to the Vineyard's final score, a 15-yard rollout to the right side by fullback Robertson.
"I was happy in the effort, and considering this was supposed to be a scrimmage week for us, I thought there were a lot of positives," Coach Herman said. "But we're going to have to address some things before Westwood, namely our ineptness in tackling and formation and alignment recognition. Our goal is to make sure we improve on something every week."
Looking ahead to Westwood, the reigning Division V champions and only team to beat the Vineyarders last season, at home this Friday, Coach Herman is thinking payback.
"They'll be a great challenge, and they'll bring a bunch of weapons" he said. "But we hope to knock them around a bit." Coach Herman said he plans to switch linebacker Andrew Farrissey back to the outside "monster" position he played last year and move Adam Petkus to the inside. "It gives us more size inside," he said. Petkus, who left the game with an injury to his knee, is expected to play on Friday.
"It's bothering him a little right now, but it has gotten better each day," Coach Herman said.
In other high school sports this week, head coach Lisa Knight's field hockey squad continues to impress.
After a 4-1 thumping of Dighton-Rehoboth Saturday, Coach Knight is almost giddy with what she sees from her team, which was 2-0 going into Monday night's game against Falmouth. "They're playing together, as a team, and it really shows," Coach Knight said. "Our captains have risen to the occasion, and I'm proud of where we are right now."
Kathryn Debettencourt accounted for all four goals on Saturday, and leads the team with six. Coach Knight can't say enough about the play of Ashley Rebello and Isabelle Lew, who she calls the twin terrors. "They're just awesome," she said.
The boys' soccer team is also undefeated at 2-0, with another convincing win at home against Dighton-Rehoboth Saturday evening. The team won 4-0 behind goals from Ben Post, Zach Sylvia, and two from Lucas Brewer. Eric Herman chipped in with two assists. The next home game is Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 4 p.m. against New Bedford.
The girls won their first soccer game of the year, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to beat Nauset on Sunday 3-2. Katherine Clark scored twice with assists from Taylor MacDonald before Rachael Schubert banged home the game winner with just two minutes to go. Lainie Aristide was credited with the assist.