As the Vineyard football team prepares to take on the Nantucket Whalers this Saturday in the final game of the season and the 33rd Island Cup, there is one underlying premise for fans, players and coaches alike to keep in mind.
Don’t make too much of the numbers.
“Does the fact that we’re 4-6 right now mean anything? No,” Vineyard head coach Donald Herman told the Gazette. “The fact that they’re 9-1 doesn’t mean anything.”
Nantucket head coach Bill Manchester shared the sentiment.
“The clichÃ© is you throw the records out,” he said in a phone interview earlier this week.
Or rather, look deeper at how those records came to be.
“You guys have been playing very, very tough competition,” said Coach Manchester. “And we know that.”
Mr. Herman, now in his 24th year as head coach, described the 2011 season as the “most challenging schedule we’ve ever undertaken.”
Three of the Vineyard losses were to teams that finished the 2011 season with 8-2 (St. Mary’s), 9-1 (Assabet Regional Tech), and 9-0 (Pembroke) records. Another loss came at the hands of 6-4 league rival Bishop Feehan, who went undefeated in the Eastern Athletic Conference.
The Vineyard team finished 2-2 in conference, missing a third win quite literally by inches in October’s 21-20 loss to Somerset, after a two-point conversion attempt was stopped by the Blue Raiders defense half a foot from the goal line.
But looking at the other side of the win-loss column, the team enters the Island Cup fresh from back-to-back wins against Bishop Stang and Medford, the latter a D1 opponent. They’ve won three of their last four games. And, perhaps of equal importance to the win momentum, the team is physically in far better condition than it was at this time last year.
“Last year in this game we were banged up,” said Coach Herman. “We had three starters [Tyler Araujo, Michael Montanile, and Conor Smith] not even dressed . . . Max Moreis was playing with basically half a shoulder, Doug Andrade had gotten injured against Nauset — and another starter went down in the game.”
The 2010 Island Cup, which ended in a 33-25 Vineyard win, was a back-and-forth matchup spotlighting both the formidable running offense of the Vineyard and the equally impressive Whaler passing game. The Vineyard lit up the scoreboard first on a Randall Jette (high school class of 2011, now playing at University of Massachusetts at Amherst) touchdown run, with the teams trading points for the remainder of the game. Jette scored four of the five Vineyard touchdowns.
“We were really relying on Randall Jette last year,” said Coach Herman. “We’re more versatile [now]; I feel good about that aspect.”
“In many respects, I think we’re better [than the 2010 squad],” he said.
Offensively, the Vineyard squad is helmed by senior quarterback Delmont Araujo, senior running backs Ryan Fisher and Tyler Araujo, junior receiver Brandon Watkins, and junior quarterback Alec Tattersall. Sophomore running back Joe Turney moved up from the junior varsity squad after an early-season shoulder injury took down senior Nick Costello, and has quickly established himself as a go-to player.
Tyler Araujo remains a presence to be reckoned with on the defensive side of the line; senior Michael Montanile, with 95 tackles on the season, has had a strong year as well, as have classmates Denver Maciel and Jeremy Maciel.
Nantucket, meanwhile, has “weapons of their own,” in Coach Herman’s words, not least of which is senior quarterback Taylor Hughes. Hughes returns for his second year as playmaker, and leads Division 5 in points scored (Martha’s Vineyard plays in Division 3A). Senior running backs Andrew Benson and Zach Moran, along with senior wide receiver Codie Perry, have been dangerous in the end zone throughout the season.
And one of the Whaler weapons is the Nantucket coach himself. Bill Manchester, in his first year coaching after John Aloisi moved back to the mainland, is a born-and-raised Nantucketer, and played in the 1987 and 1988 Island Cups — both of which ended in Whaler wins.
The last time Nantucket won the Cup was in 2002.
“They’re a very solid football team with no glaring weaknesses,” said Coach Herman. “I think it could be one of the best matchups since probably the ’03 and ’04 years.”
In 2003, the Vineyard rallied in the fourth quarter to score two touchdowns and win 20-7. A year later, the fourth quarter comeback came down to the wire, with the Vineyarders booting a field goal with five seconds on the clock to take the game in front of a stunned Whaler home crowd.
While many senior players on this year’s varsity squad traveled to Nantucket to play in the JV Island Cup in 2008, nobody has played The Game on their opponent’s turf. The Island Cup also happens to be Nantucket’s homecoming game this year.
“We talked a little about it [Monday],” Coach Herman said. “Crowd-wise, noise-wise, what to expect in terms of that. All we can do is try to give them a visual.”
He anticipates more than 4,500 fans will attend the game, far and away the largest crowd the players on the 2011 squad has ever seen.
Coach Herman recalled giving the players one non-strategic piece of pregame advice during the Monday meeting.
“Enjoy every second of it.”
The 33rd Island Cup will be played tomorrow at 1 p.m. at the Nantucket High School. Tickets for the fan boat to Nantucket can be purchased today in the high school cafeteria and on the day of sailing at the Vineyard Haven Steamship Authority. Adult round-trip fare is $30. The boat departs Vineyard Haven at 7 a.m.
The junior varsity game takes place at the Nantucket High School at 10 a.m.