Updated 3:45 PM Tuesday
When Martha’s Vineyard football players huddled together prior to the start of the 37th Island Cup played on Nantucket Saturday, Coach Don Herman gave them a simple message: “Everybody keep their mouth shut and play football.”
The Vineyard varsity team took that advice to heart, and beat the Nantucket Whalers 7-0 to take home the Cup. Senior running back Ben Clark scored a touchdown in the first quarter, and junior James Sashin kicked the ball for an extra point. The Whalers could not get past the Vineyard defense, and Vineyard junior Elijah Matthews squashed Nantucket’s last scoring chance with an interception in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
The contest pitted the Mayflower Small League–leading Whalers against a Vineyard team that topped the .500 mark by the end of the season. The win puts Martha’s Vineyard up 20-17 in the Island Cup series, and marks the team’s 12th victory in a row over Nantucket.
It was also retiring Coach Don Herman’s last victory, after 28 years at the helm of the team. Parents and former players rushed the field to celebrate as Ben Clark dumped a bucket of water on Coach Herman amid hugs and handshakes.
“It was definitely sad to walk off the field for the last time playing with these guys,” Clark, the team’s captain and winner of the MVP award, said. “Coach told us he’s had 28 years of wins and that we should play for ourselves, but every kid on the team wanted to win it for him. He’s been a great role model. I know he’s helped me a lot.”
Senior Andy DiMattia echoed Clark’s sentiments. “It was pretty emotional,” he told The Times. “The last game for me and my brother [Jimmy DiMattia]. The guys on the team talked about it all week. We wanted to send Coach out with a victory. We really did.”
His brother Jimmy added, “I think we prepared like any other game, learning what we had to. But there was a lot of extra juice; there always is for Nantucket.”
Of his players, Coach Herman said, “These seniors can graduate knowing they didn’t give up a single point to Nantucket” in either of the games they’ve played on the Whalers’ field. His only regret, Coach Herman told the Times, is that his last Island Cup wasn’t played at home.
The victory was made sweeter by the fact that two of Coach Herman’s coaching staff, Jason O’Donnell and Jason Dyer, were on the team during Mr. Herman’s second Island Cup in 1989, which they won 26-14. Mr. Dyer came back specifically for Mr. Herman’s last season.
Following the game, Coach Herman, team members, and fans returned to the Vineyard on a specially chartered Steamship Authority ferry. Amid much postgame commentary about referee calls and sportsmanship, Coach Herman sat with his family and avoided speaking negatively about Nantucket.
“I’m relieved,” he said, looking relaxed. “I usually don’t have trouble sleeping, except for this week.” He was alluding to the pressure leading up to the game.
Coach Herman expressed gratitude to the community, and to former players. “I’ve just received so much love, and positive letters of encouragement. I feel truly blessed,” he said.
When the ferry arrived in Vineyard Haven Saturday evening, the team charged down the ramp to a cheering crowd and the blaring horns and sirens of Island firetrucks and ambulances.
Jack Shea contributed to this story.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that two of Coach Herman’s coaching staff, Jason O’Donnell and Jason Dyer, played on the team during Mr. Herman’s first Island Cup in 1988, when in fact they were on the team as freshman in his second cup in 1989.