Martha’s Vineyard pulls out a thriller to win the Island Cup

Vineyarders Lochlund Chimes (left) Mike Cutrer, and Liam Smith (right) hoist the Island Cup and the Great American Rivalry Series winner's plaque following the dramatic 27-26 win over Nantucket Saturday afternoon at Dan McCarthy Field. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The 2012 Island Cup may already have achieved legendary status.

The Martha’s Vineyard high school football team shocked opposing Nantucket, every fan in attendance, and those who left before the finish by scoring two touchdowns on quarterback Alec Tattersall’s arm in the final 4:41 last Saturday in an improbable, come-from-behind 27-26 win.

Tattersall fired a 7-yard strike to junior all-purpose back Joe Turney with 20 seconds left to decide the contest. The Vineyard defense smothered two last-ditch Whaler plays after the ensuing kickoff to seal the win and ignite a wild 10-minute on-field celebration among players, coaches, alumni, and assorted family and well-wishers.

Head coach Don Herman stood at the 40-yard line after the post-game celebration and awards, breathed out deeply and grinned. “With 4:41 left, I told them (coaches and players) that we’ve been here before and that lightning can strike twice.” Mr. Herman said the game situation reminded him of the 1992 Cup game in which the Vineyard also trailed by two touchdowns with 4:46 left — and won on the arm of quarterback Jason Dyer.

“This is the second best game I remember in this series. The first was 1992, only because it was the first time it happened. But it’ll take a while for all this to sink in, I’ll tell you that,” the coach said. Saturday’s victory also tied the Cup series at 17 victories for each team. Tattersall won the Marine Corps Great American Rivalries game MVP trophy for his work on Saturday. Senior linebacker Stuart Hersh was awarded a $1,000 student-athlete Marine scholarship.

Junior back Joe Turney scored three touchdowns, including the game winner. Brandon Watkins finished his career with a touchdown, several key receptions and gritty play on the defensive edge. Turney rushed for 76 yards and Watkins for 61, pushing him over 900 yards for the season.

When senior Tattersall began his fourth quarter walk on water, the Vineyard had never led in a game marked by big plays by both teams on both sides of the ball.

The epic finish began after a tough Vineyard defensive stand forced a Whaler punt that gave the Vineyarders the ball at midfield, down 26-14 with 4:41 remaining.

Tattersall emerged and took over the game. After completing only one of seven passes for 31 yards in the first half, the senior quarterback notched 203 yards on 12 for 18 passing in the second half, mostly in the fourth quarter.

After under-throwing wideout senior Jahmari Thomas in the right flat, Tattersall found Brandon Watkins on the sideline for a 50-yard catch and run touchdown. The point after by Mike Cutrer was good to make the score 26-21 with 4:13 on the clock.

The ensuing Vineyard kickoff was a high, floating “pooch,” designed to allow time for the Vineyard kickoff team to recover the ball but a Whaler fell on it first. The Whalers were looking to run out the clock but two penalties, coupled with a referee’s timeout, sandwiched around stubborn Vineyarder defense, stalled the clock three times and led to a punt with 2:51 left to play.

After an incompletion, a completed pass for a loss and a sack, the Vineyarders faced fourth down and 16 on their own 25-yard line. Running a no-huddle offense, Tattersall and Watkins combined for a 20-yard completion to the 45, then a 17-yarder to Thomas who took the yards he could get before stepping out with 1:21 to play at the Nantucket 37-yard line to stop he clock.

Tattersall and Thomas hooked up for a nine-yard gain with the clock moving before the Vineyard QB successfully ran a quarterback sneak to pick up the first down and stop the clock with under a minute left.Two incompletions later, the Vineyarders found themselves with a third and 10 on the Whaler 30 with 32 second to play. Tattersall competed a short pass to Turney who was corralled at the 7-yard line.

With the final 26 seconds ticking off, Tattersall dropped back and threw a screen pass to Turney, who dashed into the right corner of the end zone for the winning touchdown, his third score of the game. Brandon Watkins had the other Vineyard touchdown on Saturday.

The point after kick failed but the Vineyarders, finally, took a lead 27-26. Pandemonium ensued in the stands, as the late baseball broadcaster Ned Martin was fond of saying.

Still, there were 20 seconds left in a contest that had continuously demonstrated that big-play lightning was the currency of the day. The Vineyard kickoff was long and deep, designed to put as much real estate between the Whalers and the Promised Land as possible. Whaler QB Depass, who showed magic with his arm and feet all day, could not pull the last rabbit out of the last hat, disappearing under a smothering Vineyard defense as time expired.

In the first half, the Whalers scored first on an 82-yard run by senior Dylan Perry in the first quarter. The Vineyarders scored on their next possession using sweeps by senior Brandon Watkins and junior Joe Turney, interspersed with a 32-yard completion to Watkins. The drive ended with a 20-yard score on a sweep by Turney. The point after by Cutrer was good.

Less than a minute before half time, Whaler QB Bryan Depass found Gronk-esque tight end, 6′ 7″ Terrel Correia, who corralled a pass over the middle, then shed and dragged Vineyard defenders 50 yards to the 1-yard line, setting up the score. The point after failed and half time score stood at 13-7 in favor of Nantucket.

“They are a big play team,” Mr. Herman mused after the game. Indeed, the Whalers delivered a low line drive kickoff that bounced off a Vineyard lineman and was recovered by Nantucket. Less than a minute and three plays later the Whalers had their third score. A gang of Purple defenders blocked the PAT and the score stood 20-7 Nantucket.

The Vineyard came back to score 12 seconds later, courtesy of a thoughtful kickoff return by the smooth-running Watkins, who let his blockers form and returned the ball 21 yards to the Vineyard 36. On the next play, Turney swept to the right side, skipped over two tacklers, and followed his blockers to open space and a score. The kick was good: 20-14, Nantucket.

Nantucket responded with a 58-yard scoring drive on the ground, mostly by Hunter Gray, then missed the PAT to lead 26-14 with 7:19 left in the third period.

By the middle of the third quarter, both teams resembled bruised and bloody heavyweights, taking and giving blows. The Vineyarders’ Jacob Cardoza was forced to change his blooded jersey, number 22, for number 35 late in the third quarter. Vineyard linebacker Harry West, who owned the middle on defense in the first half, was limping on a bad foot.

Players rose more slowly after tackles. Though neither team scored, the physically larger and deeper Nantucket squad appeared to be winning a war of attrition.

Until there were 4:41 seconds left and lightning struck twice.

The jayvee and junior high games

The gut-wrenching Island Cup loss aside, the Whalers did not leave the Vineyard empty-handed. Nantucket dominated the jayvee and junior high contests, hinting that the future may be bright.

In the jayvee game at Dan McCarthy Field, the Whalers beat the Vineyarders handily, 44-24.

Nantucket back Fervon Phillips was the man in this matchup, torching the Vineyard defense for three scores. Phillips scored on a three-yard run and followed up with a 42-yard scamper from a screen pass to put the Whalers up 14-0.

The Vineyarders had their best stretch in the second quarter.

Jack Slayton started things off by placing a perfect punt inside the Whaler five that was downed a foot from the goal line. The Vineyard ‘D’ got some brief revenge on Phillips by stuffing him in the end zone for a safety on the next play. Down 14-2, M.V. received the free kick and started with the ball at midfield.

Ben Clark began the series with a 26-yard sweep right to the Nantucket 24. QB Tucker McNeely then passed to Jack Slayton for a six-yard gain. Austin Chandler ran up the middle to the Whaler 8. Slayton finished off the drive with an eight-yard run and Clark added the two-point conversion to make it 14-10.

That was as close as the Vineyard got. The Whalers marched down the field and scored on the next possession for a 22-10 lead and followed up with an interception return to end the half on top, 28-10.

Isaac Higgins scored in the third quarter to cut into the Whaler lead at 28-16, but Nantucket answered to lead 36-16 heading into the fourth.

The teams again traded touchdowns in the final period. Luke McCracken scored on a three-yard run and Higgins added the deuce to make it 36-24 with 3:30 left. Unlike in the varsity game to follow, there would be no heroic Purple comeback. Forty-five seconds later, Nantucket’s Justin Halford reeled off a 38-yard run to close out the win.

The junior high game played out simultaneously on the jayvee soccer field and ended with a similar result.

Ennis Foster gave the junior Vineyarders an early 6-0 lead, but the Whalers roared back with 38 unanswered points and prevailed 38-6.

Foster was a busy man in the backfield and on special teams for coach Steve Quinn. QB Sam Bresnick got a real workout scrambling from the Nantucket defense. Lucas DeBettencourt applied some pressure on the Whalers powerful ground game, but the Nantucket middle schoolers had too many weapons on both sides of the ball.

On a bright note, middle school fans were entertained by both the Vineyard and Nantucket cheerleaders. Sue Costello and Shannon Capra coach the M.V. junior high squad. Alyssa Whitney (captain), Heather Kirwin, Grace Carroll, Samantha Cameron, Kayla Oliver, Jillian Pyden, Taylor Fauteux, Caroline Duarte, Raven McCormack, Eve Fernandez, and Kasey Stevenson performed for the Vineyard.