Martha’s Vineyard gears up for 38th Island Cup

Nantucket, MVRHS communities come together again on Nov. 26.

The victorious team charged out of the ferry to blaring sirens and a cheering crowd in Vineyard Haven in this 2015 file photo. —Sam Moore

The 38th annual Island Cup football game between Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) and Nantucket High School (NHS) will kick off on Saturday, Nov. 26, at 1 pm at Dan McCarthy Field in Oak Bluffs, continuing a storied rivalry between two island communities. The Vineyarders lead the Island Cup series with a 20-17 record.

The Division 3 Vineyarders will complete a 1-9 season against a strong 8-2 Whaler squad. Nantucket is undefeated in Division 4 Mayflower Small league play, and advanced to the second round of state playoff competition. The Island Cup, which in the past few years has been played on the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving, had to be rescheduled to the Saturday after the holiday due to Nantucket’s success in the playoffs.

YearMartha's Vineyard Nantucket
2009Did not playDid not play

While the Vineyarders have won the past 12 Island Cups, you can disregard season records when the Island Cup is at stake, said both the Nantucket and MVRHS coaches.

“Records don’t matter in this game,” said third-year Whaler Coach Brian Ryder. “I can tell you there’s no overconfidence here. The Vineyard has won 12 in a row. Why would anyone feel overconfident?”

“It’s a big day for both teams,” said first-year Vineyarder Coach Steve McCarthy. “Our kids are excited. Nantucket is certainly a big favorite, but in a rivalry game anything can happen. What happened in the past doesn’t matter. I’ve told our kids that years from now, all you’ll remember are the Island Cup games, not your record. Heart and desire are big factors. Nantucket has a good quality team and excellent coaching. They’ll be prepared, and we will too.”

Spirit is important at this time of year when football teams, particularly those with small numbers like NHS and MVRHS, are dinged up with injuries, and young players are called upon to fill vacancies. The Vineyarders will dress 24 or 25 players, including junior varsity players, for Saturday’s game, which has led the Vineyarders to cancel the junior varsity game that normally precedes the varsity contest between the two teams.

“We’ve had a lot of injuries, and we’ve got a lot of young kids playing,” said Coach McCarthy. “We canceled the JV game because we’ve been decimated with injuries. The JV players have been playing with the varsity the past few weeks.”

Of eight active senior players, Lucas Debettencourt, James Sashin, Elijah Matthews, and Andrei Bernier will play. Colby Scarsella and Cody Caseau will not play because of injury, and Ennis Foster and Wilson Redfield are doubtful on Saturday, Coach McCarthy said last Friday. Two other seniors who began the season have left the team.

“I don’t know how many players we’ll be getting back, maybe one or two,” Coach McCarthy said. “Injuries are not an excuse. That’s what happened this year. We’re not alone. I heard Bishop Stang has the same injury problems; 90 percent of their JVs are playing in varsity games.”

Senior captain Matteus Scheffer, a dominant two-way player, is one the coach would like to see back in uniform. Mr. Scheffer is recuperating from a broken hand. “He’s out as far as we know,” Coach said, noting that sophomore linebacker Hunter Cleary, out with concussion symptoms, has been cleared to play.

The Vineyarders have struggled on offense this season. They started the season running a pass-run option offense that has developed into a simple power running game. This has allowed sophomore players like quarterback Ivan Shepherd, outside linebacker Andres Garcia, offensive lineman James Breth, and freshmen center Skylar Hall and defensive back Hunter Athearn, to find game rhythm.

While the young Vineyarders have had a baptism by fire in 2016, Coach McCarthy is buoyed by their progress. “It bodes well for the future. A lot of these kids grew up fast. You could see it start to click in the last game, sustaining drives, tough defense,” he said.

While the Vineyarders will use a power running game in their search for offensive success, the Whalers have found their rhythm, outscoring opponents two to one over the season.

“We’ll mix it up on offense. Certainly we’ll try to run the ball, but not be one-dimensional. We use multiple sets, spread and power,” Mr. Ryder said. The Whalers offense is run by junior quarterback Jack Holgate, who performed well last season as a sophomore starter, and by senior captain running back Travis Demby and Holy Cross–bound center Cory Ryder.

Both schools realize how precious the Island Cup is to the cultures of two island communities whose kids take boats to play football. Over the past couple of years, the Cup has seen an increase in chippy play and trash-talking both on the field and in the stands.

The coaches have worked on their squads. “Though emotions always run high in rivalry games, we’ve worked with the kids and cleaned a lot of that stuff up this year. We want a solid clean football game between the white lines. Leave the trash-talk on the sideline,” Mr. Ryder said.

Coach McCarthy agreed. “Let the shoulderpads do the talking. I know [former] Coach Donald would pull a kid for unsportsmanlike behavior, and we do the same thing. Nantucket is a true test of civility, because it’s such a big game for everybody,” he said.

The athletic directors of both schools weighed in on importance of respectful player and fan behavior.

“It’s about sportsmanship: proper behavior by players, parents, and fans,” said MVRHS athletic director Mark McCarthy.

“Rivalries are not feuds, they are traditions,” said Chris Maury, NHS athletic director. “People need to see it in the perspective of watching a high school football game and showing respect for the kids and their coaches.”

And on Saturday, this unique rivalry that has long fascinated national media, and engaged fans locally for nearly four decades, will be played out again, and the outcome will be decided, as it always is, between the white lines.