It’s been a season of peaks and valleys for the Vineyard football team.
They shot out to a 5-0 record to start the season and earned a top rank in their division by the Boston Globe. And as if that weren’t enough, a news crew from NBC taped two 30-minute segments that will air later this year during a halftime of the network’s NFL Sunday Night Football program. Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated published a story showcasing the Vineyarders.
Things were looking pretty rosy for the Vineyarders through September, and it looked like nothing could stop them from returning to the state tournament for a chance to play in the Division IIIA Superbowl.
All that changed in October, when the Vineyarders lost a much-hyped conference game to Blue Hills Vocational High School in front of a stunned home crowd by a final of 8-6, putting a major damper on their Superbowl aspirations. The very next week, the Vineyarders dropped their second conference game to Cape Cod Tech by a final of 20-16, which at the time seemingly eliminated them from playoff consideration.
It seemed their fortunes had turned again when several conference rivals stumbled and lost crucial games, again giving the Vineyarders hope of earning a berth in the Division IIIA playoffs. But that hope was fleeting, however, as the Massacushusetts Interscholastic Athletic Assocation earlier this week ruled the Vineyarders could not win the Mayflower League Large title in case of a three way-tie.
The ruling ensures that tomorrow’s game against Nantucket will be the last of the season.
Vineyarders 7, Old Rochester 0
In their season opener at home Sept. 7, the Vineyarders shut down the potent Bulldogs from Old Rochester en route to a 7-0 win. Although the game was anything but a scoring extravaganza, the margin of victory was the largest ever against the Bulldogs for a team coached by Donald Herman. Last year the team sweated out a 17-15 win over Old Rochester, and the year before they won by a single point.
“They play us tough every year . . . it’s really something that we shut them out,” said coach Herman.
It was the first of five shutouts on the season for the Vineyarder defense.
The Vineyarders secondary — led by Jawan Johnson, Ben Rossi, Nick Gross and Nick Fogt — shut down the Bulldogs’ passing attack. Rossi had an interception late to seal the win, and Gross recovered a fumble in the second quarter to set up the Vineyarders’ only score.
Quarterback Mike McCarthy pitched out to running back Matt Lucier on an option play for a 14-yard touchdown for the game’s only score.
Vineyarders 14, Carver 0
After crushing Carver by three touchdowns in their home opener last year, the Vineyarders found themselves in a barn burner against the Crusaders Sept. 15 in their first road contest, leading by only a single score late in the fourth quarter. But the Vineyarders finally put the game away when Nick Viera scored on a 45-yard punt return with less than six minutes to play.
The Vineyarders’ defense was stellar again, allowing Carver to cross the fifty-yard line only twice all game. Both Rossi and Fogt intercepted Crusader quarterback Kevin Jellison, while Bubba Brown had eight tackles and a quarterback sack. Josh Paulson led the offense with 96 rushing yards.
And while the defense was stout, coach Herman lamented the inconsistency of the offense following the game, a theme that would resonate all season.
“Josh [Paulson] put on a show . . . but many of those yards were all him. We didn’t block well and [the offensive line] didn’t open a lot of holes,” the coach said.
Vineyard 32, Lee 20
After scoring only two touchdowns in two games, the Vineyarders offense finally came alive against Lee High on Sept. 22, rolling over their largely unknown opponent from western Massachusetts by a final of 32-20.
Paulson had another stellar game, finishing with 246 yards: 117 on the ground, 59 in pass receptions and 70 yards in kick returns. McCarthy was strong at quarterback, going seven for 10 with 124 yards and a touchdown, while Michael O’Donaghue had a touchdown reception at wide out.
Paulson sealed the win in the third quarter with a 46-yard punt return for a touchdown. Zach Coutinho, arguably the team’s most consistent player all season, kicked three extra points and a field goal.
Coach Herman praised both his offense and defense after the game.
“We played well in many areas, offense, defense, special teams — no small feat considering we had to drive halfway across the state and knew so little about Lee,” the coach said.
Vineyarders 29, Littleton 14
For the second week in a row, the Vineyarders on Sept. 29 went on the road and defeated a team they knew little about, defeating Littleton 29-14 to run their record to 4-0.
Coutinho was again perfect with three extra points, and O’Donaghue had a 50-yard kickoff return to set up a score in the third quarter.
After the game, Coach Herman said his team was continuing to get better, but noted “there is still room for improvement.”
Vineyarders 35, Hull 20
A news crew from NBC didn’t faze the Vineyarders in the least, as they went on the road and crushed Hull on Oct. 7 by final of 35-20 to run their record to 5-0 on the season.
Paulson again paced the Vineyarders’ offense with 96 rushing yards, while McCarthy connected for 126 passing yards. Coutinho was again perfect, booting five extra points, while running back Erik Dolliver had a five-yard touchdown run and O’Donaghue added a 33-yard touchdown reception.
The NBC sports division chose the Vineyard as one of 10 high school teams around the nation to profile and followed the team to Hull to tape the game and interview players, students and coaches. Coach Herman said his players did a good job of staying focused.
“The kids did a great job dealing with the distraction of a national television film crew following their every move,” he said.
Blue Hills 8, Vineyarders 6
In a harsh wake-up call, the underdogs from Blue Hills Vocational shut down the Vineyarders in front of a stunned home crowd on Oct. 12 during the first conference game of the season, a loss that was as devastating as it was improbable.
Blue Hills started the game with a sustained drive for a touchdown and two-point conversion, their first and only quality drive of the game.
On subsequent drives, linebackers Lucier and Osborn shut down the Blue Hills’ sweep plays in the backfield and tackled their running backs for losses.
The game proved frustrating for Island coaches, players and fans alike, as several dropped passes and costly penalties shut down the Vineyarder offense before it could get started.
The Vineyarders didn’t get on the board until the third play of the second quarter, when Paulson went off-tackle for a two-yard touchdown to the left. But with a chance to tie, the Vineyarders fumbled the snap on the two-point conversion attempt, and the score would remain frozen at 8-6 until the end of the game.
By all accounts, the Vineyarders dominated the game on both sides of the ball, except on the scoreboard. The defense, led by Cody Brewer, Finn Kaeka, Rossi, Gross, Kevin O’Donnell, Tyler Moreis and Duncan Meyst, were solid throughout, although the offense could never find its rhythm.
“We had plenty of chances,” said a disappointed coach Herman after the game, “defensively, we played well enough to win . . . but we just made too many mistakes [on offense] and didn’t put the ball in the end zone.”
Cape Cod Regional 20, Vineyarders 16
The Vineyarders’ chances of returning to the Division IIIA Superbowl seemed to end not with a bang but with a whimper on Oct. 19, as they dropped a heartbreaker to Cape Cod Tech that by most accounts they should have won easily.
The Vineyarders held a 14-6 lead against Cape Tech in the fourth quarter, and were poised to put the game away with a 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was called back on a flag for an illegal block in the back.
Cape Cod took an early 6-0 lead in the second quarter with an 8-yard run; but the Vineyarders answered back just before halftime when McCarthy hit Viera in the left corner of the end zone. Zach Coutinho booted the extra point to give the Vineyarders a 7-6 lead.
The Vineyarders launched a long drive to start the second half that ate up most of the quarter, capped by McCarthy’s second touchdown of the game to O’Donaghue to give them a 14-6 lead.
The Crusaders responded with a sustained drive of their own, scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run by with just under 10 minutes to play and a two-point conversion to tie the game.
On the ensuing kickoff, O’Donaghue returned the ball 80 yards for what appeared to be the potential game-winning touchdown, but the play was called back on a penalty. With less than four minutes left in the game, the Crusaders’ Jake Hollis picked off a McCarthy pass, which set the stage for the winning score four plays later on a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Crusaders a 20-14 lead.
The Crusaders ran the ball out of the end zone for a safety with 16 seconds left to seal the win at 20-16.
At the time, the loss seemed to end any hopes of a postseason for the Vineyarders. An apparent lack of effort vexed coach Herman, who challenged his team to step it up down the final stretch.
“[This team] is on the fence right now; they can roll over, or they can show their pride,” coach Herman said.
Vineyarders 17, South Shore 0
The Vineyarders returned to their winning ways on Oct. 26 when they notched their first conference win of the season against South Shore Regional Technical by a final of 17-0.
The win showed the Vineyarders still had some fight left in them, as the defense dismantled the Vikings offense and notched their third shutout of the season.
Following a Coutinho field goal, McCarthy hit a streaking Paulson in the end zone to give the Vineyarders a 10-0 lead at the half. On their first possession of the second half, Paulson had a punt return for a 60-yard score down that sealed the win for the Vineyarders.
“The goal is to still go 9-2 on the season, but to get there we have to stay focused and play smart,” coach Herman said following the game.
Vineyarders 14, Southeastern 0
Although most had written off the Vineyarders’ chances of making the postseason, their hopes regained a slight pulse following a businesslike win over conference rival Southeastern at home on Nov. 2.
The win, coupled with several key losses by conference rivals, again gave the Vineyarders an outside chance at the playoffs with help from several other teams.
Their win over Southeastern, the team’s fourth shutout of the season, remained in the balance until the fourth quarter when Rossi recovered a Hawks fumble and ran for a 55-yard score to give the Vineyarders a two-touchdown lead. Paulson scored a touchdown earlier in the game on a 70-yard run down the right sideline.
“We’re on life support . . . we have a chance,” said coach Herman of his team’s chances at making the playoffs.
Vineyarders 3, Bristol Plymouth 0
As if by design, things fell right into place for the Vineyarders, as they defeated conference foe Bristol Plymouth 3-0 last Saturday. The next day, Cape Cod Tech defeated South Shore to keep the Vineyard’s title hopes alive — at least for the time being.
But earlier this week, the MIAA ruled that Blue Hills would win the Mayflower League Large title if there was a three-way tie, which eliminated the Vineyard from postseason consideration once and for all.
The win over Bristol Plymouth was the third consecutive shutout by the Vineyarders, and fifth of the season. Paulson ran nine times for 112 yards and McCarthy rushed for 45 yards. Coutinho accounted for the only points of the game with a 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
With the win, the Vineyarders’ record ran to 8-2 overall and 3-2 in the Mayflower League Large heading into tomorrow’s game against the Whalers.