Old Rochester blanks Martha’s Vineyard in gridiron opener

Vineyard QB Alec Tattersall (right) rolls out and looks for an open receiver during the first quarter. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football team staggered through a 25-0 trouncing from Old Rochester Regional High School (ORR), in the season opener September 7, at Dan McCarthy Field in Oak Bluffs.

The game, you might say, was not as close as the score indicates. Old Rochester’s punishing running game (more than 200 yards) wore down the Vineyard defense en route to four rushing TDs, capped by an 80-yard burst in the second half by Bulldog quarterback Nolan Bergeron, who had more than 100 rushing yards in the game.

“We’ve played each other a dozen times and it’s always a seven-point game,” Coach Donald Herman said on Monday. “To say I’m disappointed in our effort is an understatement. By far, this is the worst season opener I’ve been part of in 32 years of coaching. We have some work to do.”

By the midpoint of the fourth quarter, the Vineyarder depth chart was getting game experience as injuries and a slew of cramping episodes on a humid night put a host of starters on the bench or in the locker room.

“Not a year where we could afford injuries, but four of five linebackers were down before the season started,” Coach Herman said. “Nick Costello broke his collarbone on Friday. Same bone, different place than he broke it last year. Nick’s season is probably over. Doug Andrade has a hip flexor and Alec Tattersall has a slightly strained oblique. And we thought we’d addressed the cramping issues from last year. Obviously not.”

The promise of a new season inspires confidence. Certainly the fans were up, perhaps amped by rapper Rick Ross overwhelming the PA system (kudos to students Elijah Laue and John Cataloni for ID-ing the, er, artist). Senior Maggie Riseborough nailed a pure-voiced rendition of the national anthem before 22 frenzied football players took the field.

Longtime fans perched on the back row at the 50-yard line were optimistic. “We’ll get the passing game going,” predicted Rick Lambos, whose sons played for the Purple in the 1990s.

To be fair, the game had the trappings of a slug fest early when Bergeron was sacked on the edge on third down by outside linebacker John O’Shaughnessy on the Bulldogs first possession. The Vineyard offense went to work with an efficient ground game featuring Doug Andrade and Brandon Watkins and quarterback Alec Tattersall’s impressive arm.

The Vineyarders missed an opportunity for a first quarter score when Tattersall’s long pass barely eluded 6′ 6″ wide receiver Jahmari Thomas in the end zone. To that point, M.V. had run and passed crisply into the ORR red zone. The Vineyard offense sputtered, ORR took over on downs, and began its relentless running game.

Each team had 10 possessions in the game. The Bulldogs took a 7-0 lead into halftime, thanks to 77 yards on the ground late in the second quarter. After the break, ORR scored early and often in the third quarter and into the fourth as Vineyard injuries mounted.

The Vineyarders’ best starting field position was in the third quarter at the ORR 43-yard line. Aided by a series of Bulldog personal fouls, the Purple had a first and goal at the 5. Three plays later, on 4th and 7, Alec Tattersall’s pass was intercepted to end the threat.

The crowd of 400 to 500 Vineyard fans had thinned considerably by the time sophomore QB Mike Mussel passed and running back Nate Horwitz water-bugged his way through an energetic final series in the fourth quarter.

As coaches like to say, what can they build on? Tattersall’s arm and leg, for sure. The senior QB boomed several 40-yard punts with major hang time and has the skills and arm strength to deliver the ball. But his receivers dropped four balls on Friday night. Drops are fixable errors.

Coach Don Herman’s hybrid wing-T offense, with veers and options, has promise, though the players evidenced some early confusion with the system, resulting in several illegal motion and delay of game penalties and timeouts called to avoid others.

Doug Andrade and Brandon Watkins are gritty backs willing to run north-south and able to bounce to a hole if there is one. Line play on both sides of the ball deteriorated, likely a result of lack of depth at the position. Blocking for a rollout-option system is typically difficult but the O-line executed effectively early in the game.

When receivers fought for space, the system worked. In the third quarter, for example, Thomas found and sat in open space on a short curl, then waited for Tattersall’s delivery for a seven-yard gain.

“On the plus side,” Mr. Herman said, “Ben Clarke is the first freshman linebacker to start here since 1999 and we get Aaron Lowe and maybe Kyle Stobie next week. Stuart Hersh is on the mend and he’ll be back soon.”

Next up: Bristol-Plymouth High School in Taunton on Friday, Sept. 14. Game time has been moved to 4 pm from 6 pm to minimize mosquito threat.

Note to fans: the public entrance at McCarthy field has been changed. The gate is now located adjacent to the southwest end zone by the parking lot.