The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Vineyarders harpooned the Nantucket Whalers with a narrow 14-13 win during the 2022 Island Cup on Saturday, with fans spilling onto the field with joy. This is the 73rd game in the much-anticipated rivalry that began in 1978, and the Vineyarders’ win ties the series 21-21, while returning the Island Cup to Martha’s Vineyard.
“For them to come out here and win that Island Cup, it’s beyond special,” Vineyarders football Head Coach Tony Mottola, soaked from the victory Gatorade, said. “It’s really an amazing rivalry game, and our kids rose to the level and really played great today.”
Both teams entered McCarthy Stadium Field in Oak Bluffs after experiencing rough seasons. The Vineyarders carried a 1-6 record, while the Whalers had a 0-9 record. Nonetheless, both teams competed ferociously for the trophy on Saturday. This fighting spirit was displayed by the Islands’ communities as well, like yard signs lining Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road to the high school supporting the Vineyard football team, and vehicles streaming off the ferry sporting Nantucket flags. At the stadium, the crowd got rowdy as the Vineyarders charged onto the field.
The game came down to a last-minute field goal, which was missed by Nantucket. Because the Whalers had no timeouts left, MVRHS was able to go into victory formation.
The Vineyarders received the opening kickoff, and while they gained some yardage, particularly through T.J. Lett running the ball as quarterback, they did not score.
Nantucket was the first to score, as Jayquan Francis bolted past the Vineyarders defense and got the first touchdown of the game, eliciting celebratory cheers from Nantucket fans and some groans from Martha’s Vineyard fans.
With the ball back on the Vineyarders’ side in the second quarter, steady progress was made, with Letts once again gaining significant yardage. After a few plays, Lett ran into the end zone, and Martha’s Vineyard fans erupted in celebration, with horns of the Oak Bluffs and Edgartown Fire Department’s fire engines blaring while a booming blank was fired from a cannon. The extra point tied the game 7-7.
The Vineyarders defense had difficulty containing the Whalers offense, and five plays later, Nantucket’s Francis ripped past the defenders to earn a touchdown. This shifted the energy in the stands back to Nantucket. However, a flag thrown during the extra point forced a redo, and the ball flew wide of the goalpost, leaving the score 13-7.
The ball wouldn’t stay away from the Whalers for long. A fumble by Lett was recovered by Nantucket during a run play. The Whalers almost got another touchdown, but a holding penalty maintained the status quo until the ball returned to the Vineyarders.
Small gains were made, and Mottola called three timeouts, one after each play, before the Vineyarders punted the ball. Once again, the Whalers almost got another touchdown, but the player was deemed not in control of the ball before stepping out of bounds, so it was an incomplete pass.
During the second half, the Vineyarders defense gradually found its footing and shut down the Whalers’ attempt to move the ball. A Whalers fumble turned the ball over to the Vineyarders.. Except for one pass to Guilherme Oliveira, it was Lett’s running that moved the Vineyarders all the way to the end zone, tying the game. A kick from Caio Guimaraes brought the score to 14-13, with the Vineyarders in the lead.
Several run plays by Nantucket’s Kareem Maxwell steadily brought the Whalers toward the end zone before being denied by the Vineyarders defense. A missed field goal would return the ball to the Vineyarders.
Neither team made much progress, and with less than two minutes left, the Whalers attempted to win the game with a field goal. The ball landed short, and the Vineyarders exploded with jubilant applause and cheering. Mottola and another coach hugged each other at the near-guaranteed victory, rolling to the ground with big smiles on their faces. After getting up, Mottola reclaimed order amongst his players to conclude the game.
Once the game finished with a Vineyard victory, Martha’s Vineyard students stormed the field, waving flags and hands in the air. In the scrum, Vineyarder Lucas Belain was captured by a Nantucket Current photographer consoling a Nantucket player.
Mottola said Lett, the player who got both touchdowns for the Vineyarders, was someone who could be placed “in a bunch of different places.”
“We felt like we could move him around and just use his athleticism and do whatever we needed to place him. He did a great job of adapting to it and making good things happen,” Mottola said. “The kid’s an athlete.”
The Vineyarders will be ready to face the Whalers again during the next Island Cup. “We’re excited and fired up. We know Nantucket’s gonna come back in 365 days and it’s gonna be another battle, but we’re just happy to get out of here this year with it,” Mottola said. “The kids deserve it. It’s a great national rivalry, and [we’re] glad to have it back on-Island.”
The Island Cup topped off several inter-Island competitions, starting with the varsity girls soccer and varsity girls field hockey games in the morning.
The Vineyarders will have some time to prepare for the next game on their home turf against the David Prouty High School Panthers on Saturday, Nov. 19, at 1 pm.