With over 50 years of inter-Island competition and more than 25 years of battling for the coveted Island Cup, it is hard to believe there is a fresh angle when it comes to the Vineyard-Nantucket high school football rivalry.

What storyline remains to be written?

There have been overtime heartbreakers, one-sided blowouts and thrilling comebacks - all in the past 10 years. Since 1980, 16 Island Cup contests have decided whether one team went on to play in the Super Bowl. The Game, as it is known around these parts, has become a showcase for two perennially strong programs that have to run through, over or around the other to attain ultimate superiority.

But for a reminder that there is always something unexpected to look forward to, consider last year's meeting, when E.J. Sylvia's 29-yard field goal with five seconds left in the game won it for the Vineyarders.

Is there any need for hyperbole?

"It's our Super Bowl, and they'll be playing like it's theirs, too," an understated Vineyard head coach Donald Herman said this week. "Nothing new there."

The Vineyarders will take on their foes from across the Sound tomorrow at McCarthy field in Oak Bluffs. The two meet at 1 p.m. in the 28th battle for the Island Cup. The junior varsity squads lock horns at 10 a.m.

Like last year, there is no Super Bowl berth awaiting the winner of The Game; both teams' seasons will come to an end after the end of the fourth quarter tomorrow. But Mr. Herman assured fans they can expect another gritty, hard-fought contest all about pride.

"I think past games have shown this is a pretty intense rivalry regardless of what the stakes are," he said. "Both teams will be ready to play."

The Vineyarders enter The Game with a 6-3 record and a lock on second place in the Mayflower Large League. At 1-8, the Whalers are in the basement hoping not only to salvage something from an otherwise dismal season, but also to avenge last year's crushing defeat.

You know it will be on their minds.

Last year's contest was one for the history books and highlight reels. After a blocked punt gave the Vineyarders the ball back with Nantucket ahead by two points and less than a minute remaining in the game, Sylvia booted a 29-yard field goal to give the Vineyard a one point lead. Only five seconds remained on the clock after Sylvia's kick sailed through the uprights.

The action, however, was far from over. The ensuing kickoff featured several laterals by a desperate Nantucket return team, who managed to scramble out of several tackles. Somehow, a Nantucket runner was able to get free and make a mad dash down the right side of the field.

Yet a jubilant Vineyard sideline, thinking the game was over after a questionable tackle, started running out onto the field - directly into the path of the oncoming Whaler. In a scene Nantucket will forever recall with venom, the Nantucket runner darted back into the middle of the field - and a throng of Vineyard defenders - to avoid colliding with the Vineyard waterboy, who narrowly escaped being run over.

The Whaler was then corralled. Time had expired and the game was over.

With the win, Mr. Herman's record now stands at 6-2 against Nantucket in the last eight meetings, and 147-49 in his 18 years on the Island. Tomorrow marks the 18th meeting between Mr. Herman and Nantucket's Vito Capizzo, who has coached the Whalers for a remarkable 42 seasons. With last year's dramatic victory, Mr. Herman leads the head-to-head match up, 9-8.

"Nantucket's always been known for its defense, and I think they showed in their last few games they can slow down a good offense," he said. "I think they do not have the speed past teams have had, but they are big and should give us a good fight."

Mr. Herman said he and his coaching staff have scouted the Whalers and while he would not list a specific game plan, did hint at a strategy.

"There are a couple of people we want to isolate and go after," he said.

As is his custom, Mr. Herman this week carried the Island Cup to every practice to remind the team what is at stake tomorrow. Last night, the annual bonfire and pep rally was held on the practice field.

While the two teams have been powerhouses in the league for generations, the programs headed in opposite directions this year. After a 5-5 record last year, the Whalers sunk to 1-8 this season; inconsistent play marred by turnovers has been their biggest problem. Entering tomorrow's game, the Whalers have lost five in a row.

It was also decided this week that the Whalers will switch divisions next year. Due to declining enrollment, Nantucket will move to the Mayflower Small League for the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

The Vineyarders, on the other hand, are coming off two impressive wins against league opponents and are on the verge of a respectable 7-3 season - especially considering who the three losses came against. A punishing Division II Lynn Classical team overmatched the Vineyarders in the second week, and turnovers and mental mistakes hampered the Vineyarders against Middleboro, a loss Mr. Herman said should have been a victory. Turnovers also contributed to the 13-7 loss at undefeated Mayflower champion South Shore.

"Realistically, I think this team could just as easily be 9-1," Mr. Herman said.

After defeating Cape Cod Tech 26-6, the Vineyarders last weekend pummeled Bristol Plymouth 34-6 in a game to decide second place in the league. A strong performance by the special teams squad and a smothering defense stood out in the victory that ensured Mr. Herman his 14th winning season as the Vineyard's head coach.

"But we are second in the league again, and in that respect it's disappointing," he said. "We were only seven points away from heading to the Super Bowl [referring to the 13-7 loss South Shore], and I have always said that in this league the only team that can beat the Vineyard is the Vineyard, and I think this season showed that."

In that loss against South Shore, the Vineyarders turned the ball over five times, a game played in a rare October snow squall. The forecast for Saturday calls for only ample sunshine, and hopefully another win for the Vineyarders.