Anything can happen at the Island Cup. That’s the word from the head coaches on both sides of the longstanding football rivalry between the Vineyard and Nantucket. The game takes place on Saturday, Nov. 26, beginning at 1 p.m. at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
The Vineyarders have taken the fabled trophy 12 times in a row now. Nobody born in this century can even remember a Nantucket win. But the Cup’s early years were a long run of Whalers victories. From 1978 until 2002, the Vineyard team won just eight of 25 games.
This year’s Nantucket team is 8-2 for the 2016 season. The struggling Vineyarders are 1-9. But statistics are meaningless when it comes to the Island Cup, said Whalers head coach Brian Ryder.
“We have not won the Island Cup since 2002. We have not won on the Vineyard since 1995,” Mr. Ryder told the Gazette by phone Monday morning. “Anybody who says you’re the favorites, they’re playing games. We’re the underdogs.”
“You can throw the records away,” continued Mr. Ryder, whose son Cory is a senior co-captain of the Whalers team. “It really doesn’t matter in a rivalry game like this. We were 8-2 last year going into the Vineyard game and we lost. We were 8-3 the year before, and we lost.”
No matter the outcome, the game promises to be fierce, said Vineyarders head coach Stephen McCarthy, who stepped up to the top coaching spot after Don Herman retired at the end of last season.
“It will be a physical game. [The Whalers] are big. They’re big and strong.”
The Vineyarders, meanwhile, have been plagued by injuries this season, with 17 players out of action after getting hurt during games.
“We’re young. A lot of our underclassmen are playing. We’ve had so many injuries, we don’t have a J-V team any more,” Mr. McCarthy said. “It’s just the breaks.”
But like Mr. Ryder, Mr. McCarthy believes that anything is possible in an Island Cup game.
“You can throw the records out the window. If you can’t get pumped up for this game, there’s something wrong with you, because this is the biggest game of your career. Especially if you’re a senior and it’s the last one, it means a lot,” Mr. McCarthy said.
“If it’s your first one, it’s a nervous time,” he added. “The emotions take over and you have to settle down and play. If the end is close, the emotions come again.”
Mr. McCarthy was speaking from experience. A 1975 MVRHS graduate, he played in the game against Nantucket a few years before the Island Cup was officially established.
“If you haven’t done it, it’s pretty intense compared to what you’re used to,” Mr. McCarthy said. “You see 2,000 people [in the stands]. Hopefully it’s a competitive game for both sides, and the winner takes all that day.”
In addition to the longstanding rivalry on the field, each side also has its own version of the trophy itself. The Vineyarders maintain that in 1978, head coach John Bachellor and assistant coach Bob Tankard piloted a small boat over to Falmouth and purchased the original $127 trophy.
Coach Ryder, however, asserts that it was a gift from legendary Whalers coach Vito Capizzo, who retired in 2009 after 45 years and 293 wins. What is not in dispute is that a few years ago the original trophy was retired and new one took its place. Shuttling between the Islands over the decades took its toll on the hardware.
But the origin story lingers on for Mr. Ryder and his team’s claim on the trophy.
“We always consider Nantucket the Cup’s home,” Mr. Ryder said. “The Cup hasn’t been home in 14 years.” (No game was played in 2009.) “We’re hoping to change that.”
Mr. McCarthy smiled broadly when told of Mr. Capizzo’s claim. “Oh, yeah, sure, that’s what they say. That’s a war, there,” he said.
But he refrained from any verbal retaliation, choosing instead to praise the Whalers.
“They’re a good program,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Coach Ryder does a good job with his team.”