An inspired Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football team ended its season with a victory last Friday night, taking a bit of the sting out of a season cut short because the roster was depleted by injuries and disciplinary dismissals.

The Vineyarders scored twice in the first quarter and held off Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical High School the rest of the way for a 14-0 victory in the final game of the season.

On an emotional Senior Night, senior quarterback Zachary Moreis threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to fellow senior co-captain Cooper Bennett for the first score, then ran for a 55-yard touchdown, both in the opening minutes of the game.

“It was meant to go right, but the boys opened it up on the left,” Zachary said about his rushing touchdown. “Saw the hole, took it, got a good block from the wide receiver, and was able to get in the end zone.”

Last week, school administrators announced the team would shorten the season by forfeiting the final two games, including the traditional season ending Island Cup rivalry against Nantucket. With a roster severely depleted, the school said it acted in the interest of safety for the players.

Head Coach Ryan Kent said the disappointment of ending the season early was on the minds of the players as they took the field for their final game.

“They had an opportunity to step up and that’s exactly what they did,” said Coach Kent. “I think there was a little extra incentive, knowing tonight would be the last night, especially for the seniors. They played the way we knew they could play all season. We finally got the job done.”

The atmosphere was more like a championship game than a season finale. Coach Kent got a Gatorade shower as the clock ran out and the victory was secure. Students and parents counted down the final seconds, then rushed the field to congratulate the team after the game ended.

“It’s just been a rough year with everything that happened, all the injuries,” said senior co-captain John Morris. “It’s amazing to come out here our last game, seniors’ last game as a team, to get this win feels amazing. It’s our last game together, most of us seniors we’re never going to play again, just wanted to win.”

The disappointment of a declining football program, manifested this year in a shortened season, rippled out to families, students and fans. Jessica Perry wore her grandson Connor Bettencourt’s number 68 jersey as she watched him play from the stands.

“He texted me last night and asked me if I would wear it,” Ms. Perry said. “He’s a good kid. I think the kids have done the best they could do.”

In the stands not far away, Suzanne Rollins wore the varsity jacket of her son, senior co-captain Samuel Rollins. She said ending the season early was the right thing for the players.

“I feel like the coaches did a great job,” said Ms. Rollins. “They took everything into consideration, and they made the right choice.”

Still, it was disappointing.

“It is, but they made the decision for all the right reasons,” she said.

On the minds of many at last week’s game was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. No inter-Island fan boats this year, no signs by the side of the road, no Island Cup.

“It’s a tradition,” said John Morris. “It sucks, especially after last year, we wanted redemption. It is what it is. Our coaches, they decided what they think is best for us, and I support them wholeheartedly.”

His teammates seemed to take the disappointment in stride, tempered in part by the season ending victory.

“It’s a bummer, but we play the cards we’re dealt, said Zachary Moreis. “It didn’t play out the way we wanted it to.

He was asked if the victory was bittersweet.

“More sweet, more sweet,” Zachary said. “Nobody really knows what goes on within the operation of a football team. I would die for all these boys, even the coaches. That really summarizes our whole season in that one game. That’s how we can play for each other and come out on top stronger than ever.”

The disappointment stretches across Nantucket sound, where Nantucket High School athletic director Chris Maury said the players, school, and community are disappointed there will be no rivalry game this year. Nantucket was scheduled to host the game.

Mr. Maury questioned why the Vineyarders played last week with a depleted roster, but chose to forfeit the Island Cup.

“The news obviously came as a surprise, Mr. Maury said. “I’m fielding a lot of different questions from the standpoint of the fact this week’s game was played and the Vineyard actually won it.”

He also raised the possibility that the Island Cup is in jeopardy next year, and has already had preliminary discussions with Vineyard athletic director Mark McCarthy.

“It’s a question mark where the Vineyard’s program is going to be next year, and will this game be back on the table next year,” said Mr. Maury. “Certainly the hope is they’ll be able to rebuild the numbers there.”

Parents and school administrators have vowed to continue their efforts to strengthen the football program, but concern is circulating over its viability.

The team will graduate eight seniors from this year’s roster, and participation in the Island’s youth football program has dwindled in recent years. Participation in soccer programs across the Island is up, perhaps a sign of changing sports culture.

“Our school is becoming more of a soccer school,” said senior soccer player Joao Goncalves. “It used to be a really strong football school. The talk in the community right now is soccer, soccer, soccer.”

Former head coach Donald Herman, who retired after the 2015-2016 season following 28 seasons at the helm of Vineyarders football, watched the game last week from just beyond the end zone. He sympathized with the decision made by coaches and school administrators.

“It’s a tough call,” said Mr. Herman. “The coaches weighed all their concerns very seriously. The number one concern is the safety of the players. I can understand where the coaches are coming from.”

The former coach said he felt the school’s move in 2008 from the Mayflower League to the Eastern Athletic Conference (EAC) was part of the problem.

“Going from the Mayflower league in 2008, we just lost the superbowl, we had 75 kids playing,” Mr. Herman said. “We go into the EAC, first year we were down to 59 kids, we lost kids every year. I saw this potentially coming down since 2008. This was before the concussion issue, you throw that on top with the concussion concerns.”

Next year the team will play in the Cape and Islands League, against more similar sized schools. Mr. Herman said he hopes that will help turn the program around.

“I think the best thing for the program is to end tonight,” said Mr. Herman. “Getting in to the new Cape and Islands League, I think we can be much more competitive. I think the kids will see they’ll have better opportunities to make the post season. I think that will create some enthusiasm for the program again.”

Meanwhile, there is no lack of enthusiasm from Coach Kent. Coming off the field after last week’s victory, he was asked what’s next.

“Weight room,” he replied without hesitation. “Next season starts tomorrow.”