Look for a real tussle Saturday in the 36th edition of the Island Cup as the emergent Nantucket Whaler high school football team (8-2) meets the rejuvenated Vineyarders (5-5) at 1:30 pm on Dan McCarthy Field in Oak Bluffs.
Of course, won-lost records generally mean little in the nationally known rivalry between the islands and this year both teams enter the tilt with good momentum. After an 0-4 start, the Vineyarders have parlayed a multi-threat offense and tenacious defense to win five of their last six games, the last two via shutout.
Across the sound, first year Nantucket High School head coach Brian Ryder has a fired-up squad that enters Saturday’s Island Cup game off a 14-6 double-overtime win over West Bridgewater on Saturday. The Vineyarders pitched their second consecutive shutout on Friday night, 28-0, over Bellingham. The Vineyarders have surrendered just 13 points in their last four games.
Over three and one-half decades, Island Cup dominance has ebbed and flowed. The Vineyarders have won the last nine Island Cup games and the Whalers enjoyed a 9-1 run before Mr. Herman took the Vineyarder helm 28 years ago. Last year’s 14-0 victory gave the Vineyard an 18-17 edge in the rivalry.
Mr. Ryder has lived the rivalry, playing for the Island Cup for several years in the mid-1980s under legendary Nantucket coach Vito Capizzo. Mr. Ryder became an All-American at Dean College (Franklin, Mass.), then a scholarship player at Tulane University and had a stint in professional football including being a New England Patriots draft choice in 1991.
Mr. Herman has been pointing his charges to the Cup after their slow start. “Our goal has been to have a winning season and we’re on track for achieving that goal. A tough challenge, though. They’re having a very good year. They are a physical, athletic group. Brian has done a good job.
“The team that can stay within themselves has the best chance. We can’t let emotion get the best of us. That’s our best opportunity to be successful. We’ve worked on that all week, along with the football things. Don’t get excited too early, peak at the right time.
“They are going to want to try to run the ball down our throats. We saw their game against West Bridgewater. They can throw it, but I think they prefer smash-mouth, the type of game I enjoy, personally.”
The Vineyarders have presented a more balanced offensive scheme in recent games. “We are more in synch now. It’s hard to be balanced when you are behind,” Mr. Herman said of the season-opening four-game skid. “But against Bellingham, every one of our skill players touched the ball.”
Asked for the inside story on his game strategy, Mr. Herman answered with a comment former assistant coach Bill Belcher always supplied to the question: “Score more points than they do,” he said, noting that Mr. Belcher is making the pilgrimage up from his Florida home for the
game. “The weather is encouraging at this point and I’m glad we’re playing this weekend, when it should be played, rather than after Thanksgiving,” he said.
Nantucket is peaking as well, Mr. Ryder said. “We have a lot of positive emotion coming out of a double-overtime win.” he said. “So it’s a perfect setting this coming week for our hopes of bringing back the Island Cup.
“The Vineyard is a good team, well-coached. As a coach and as a man, Don Herman’s actions speak for themselves. They play one division above ours and they have dangerous weapons — Mike Mussell at quarterback, good receivers and backs that also come out of the backfield. They spread you out, you can’t key on one guy. We have our work cut out for us.
“We match up fairly well. We’re big. Now, big is one thing. Being a football player is another. We’re a much more physical and aggressive team than we have been. We have some big and talented players.
“Nantucket has always had a stiff defense. That was my goal this year, to bring that back to the program. Nantucket football is a big part of my life, providing me with a college education. This is an opportunity to give back what I received as a player here.”
“That’s a reason why I wanted to get back. It’s slow going, not perfect, but the goal is to build commitment, accountability, and a work ethic that will be of value in their lives long after their playing days.”
2014 VARSITY ROSTER
2014 JUNIOR VARSITY ROSTER