Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Nantucket week. This year’s showing of the most anticipated football game of the fall features a young crop of vigorous Vineyarders eager to recapture the Island Cup versus a Nantucket team riding high off back-to-back lopsided wins against divisional opponents.

And for the first time in the rivalry’s history, the Cup includes a share of the Cape and Islands League Lighthouse division title, which is why the game is taking place so much earlier in the season. Nantucket is currently in first place in the league, with the Vineyard close behind. A win on Saturday for the Vineyarders would mean sharing the top spot in the league with Nantucket.

The varsity game begins at 1:30 at Dan McCarthy Field with the junior varsity, junior high and youth flag football teams beginning play at 10:30 a.m.

This year's game marks the first on home turf for Coach Donald Herman since he returned from retirement last season. Coach Herman’s boys have turned in a solid season so far, notching dominant wins over Mystic Valley, Southbridge, Bourne and Monomoy. However, Nantucket to is enjoying a successful season too. After getting blown out in their first three games, the Whalers bounced back with three straight wins against Brighton, Monomoy and Sandwich.

The Vineyarders offense features a power running game led by David Butkowsky, Josh Pinto and Owen Amodio on the offensive line. All season the boys in the trenches have paved the way to the end zone for sophomore speedsters Antone Moreis and Jayden Coyle. Moreis leads the Vineyarders in rushing yards with 737 and has crossed into the end zone 13 times so far this season. Coyle has covered 305 yards on the ground while scoring four touchdowns on the year.

On defense, the Vineyard’s steel purple curtain is anchored by sophomore middle linebacker Hunter Meader, who has racked up 39 total tackles on the year, junior safety Braden Sayles, who leads the team in interceptions with five, junior defensive tackle Brian Torres who has 25 solo tackles and two fumble recoveries, and two-way senior captain Josh Pinto who leads the team in sacks with five.

Nantucket will counter the Vineyard’s swarming defense with an offense that Coach Herman described as a “wing-T hybrid.” This means they hike the ball out of shotgun, with a tailback behind the quarterback and two other running backs just off the outside foot of their offensive tackles and tight ends.

“They’re going to run a lot of sweeps and counters to their two running backs who will be tough to stop. Nantucket is a very good team,” Coach Herman said before Tuesday’s practice.

After watching Nantucket’s game film during Monday’s practice, the Vineyard’s junior quarterback Zach Smith said he “saw a lot of speed” in the Whaler’s offense. “They move the ball well and have some great playmakers. Their scheme isn’t anything too complex, it’s not too hard to figure out. The game is going to come down to physicality, and setting the edge will be the key to shutting them down.”

With physical play at a premium on Saturday, the Vineyard got a boost on defense Tuesday afternoon when edge rusher Hoffie Hearn returned to action after being sidelined for several weeks with a shoulder injury. Hearn’s return bolsters the Vineyard’s pass rush at a crucial time. Against Sandwich, defensive end Justin Chin, who had been a steady force on defense for the Vineyard, suffered a lower leg injury on a kickoff return late in the fourth quarter, ending his senior campaign.

The Vineyarders are a very close-knit team, and this has been no ordinary week of practice for the boys in purple. Their energy is “one hundred per cent different, we’re all hyped this week,” Zach Smith said. “Comparing it to last year, we have the confidence we need to win it, and we know we can win it.”

On Thursday at 7 p.m. there will be a bonfire rally held behind the softball field at the high school’s athletic complex. Road signs to be placed along the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven road from the Steamship to the high school, pre-made or design-your-own, are available for purchase at the front office of the high school for $10 with the proceeds going to the touchdown club.