Vineyard Loses Super Bowl Heartbreaker
By JOSHUA SABATINI
Despite coming into the Division 6 Super Bowl with incredible momentum - having won seven straight games in which they outscored opponents 206-38 - the Vineyard football squad hit a brick wall Saturday afternoon, suffering a 12-0 defeat at the hands of Marian, a private Catholic school in Framingham.
It wasn't for lack of fan support at the game, which took place under clear skies at Boston University's Nickerson Field. It appeared that a few hundred fans had made the trip from the Island, and when the Mustangs' opening kickoff sailed in a high arc into the hands of Tim Higgins, the stands erupted with cheers and thunder from the stamping of feet against aluminum bleachers.
But the Vineyard was forced to punt in its first series and then received a 5-yard offsides penalty on the subsequent play. Facing 1st and 5 from its own 22-yard line, Marian picked up just two yards on a run. But on the next down, the Vineyarders experienced the first of two defensive breakdowns.
Mustang quarterback Chris McCann broke free off the line of scrimmage, and ran 76 yards for a touchdown as the defender in charge of covering him let him pass untouched. McCann would go on to carry the ball 12 more times for 54 yards.
On the ensuing extra point attempt, the Vineyard responded with a touch of the stellar defensive performance it has displayed all season long. Bubba Bergeron charged the snap and enveloped the ball.
After the kickoff - down six points with 7:18 remaining in the first period - the Vineyarders responded with a solid drive from their own 39, led by quarterback Keith Crossland. With five runs and two passes, Vineyard advanced inside the Mustang's 40. But it was the last time the Island would come that close to their opponent's end zone.
On third and eight, Crossland's pass into the end zone was picked off by McCann. The pigskin was brought out to the 20-yard line, where Marian began another drive downfield with 3:43 remaining in the first quarter. It ended with a 20-yard McCann touchdown pass 2:36 into the second period.
Following this second lapse - the receiver was wide open - Vineyard again stopped the conversion attempt. With almost three quarters of the game remaining, the touchdown nevertheless would prove to be the final score of the contest.
Two Vineyarders suffered injuries late in the first half. First, Bergeron suffered a dislocated elbow with less than a minute remaining; he was transported to a nearby ambulance, and returned to the Island on the last boat Saturday night. A few plays later, with just seven seconds left in the half, Vineyard took another significant hit.
The Mustangs were threatening to score when Crossland turned the tables on McCann, intercepting a 3rd-and-goal pass into the end zone. But Crossland fractured his fibula (lower leg) on the play and would miss the remainder of the game. The injury will take about six weeks to heal.
At halftime, Coach Donald Herman told his players that the game was still within reach despite the injuries. He said that the Island defense had settled down and were foiling the Mustang's offensive drives.
"I felt that we could move the football more," said Coach Herman, "and that the Mustangs were giving us opportunities to do something."
Marian's opening drive of the second half made clear its strategy to use up as much time as possible. In 11 plays, Marian gained 43 yards as six minutes and 32 seconds ticked off the game clock.
On Vineyard's first possession in the half, it looked as if the squad was responding to Coach Herman's halftime speech. The offense, now led by Eric McCarthy, picked up momentum with a 16-yard run by Higgins from the 22-yard line. After four plays picking up yardage, Island fans thought they were watching a comeback. But a pitchout by McCarthy led to a fumble which the Mustangs recovered on their own 40. Hope was vanquished.
Marian would use the opportunity to hold the ball for almost seven minutes.
"After the fumble we only had two more offensive opportunities for the rest of the game," said Coach Herman. Both opportunities went for naught.
Going into the game it was clear that Marian came more prepared. Coach Herman said the team had acquired three tapes of the Vineyard and scouted them thoroughly.
"I could definitely tell they were better prepared for us than we were for them," said Coach Herman.
The Vineyard did have its chances in the game, but could not execute. "We were disappointed after the game," said Coach Herman. "We were left with a sour taste in our mouths. We did not play up to our ability. Everyone would say, including the coaching staff, that they could have done something better or harder in the game."
Overall, the season was not a disappointment, and the squad has every right to celebrate its success.
"Do not let this loss spoil the fact that we had a very successful season," Coach Herman told his players after the game. "Every football team would envy our 11-2 record. Be very proud of it."
With the 2001 football season at an end, next year's season promises to be equally fruitful.
"We have a very strong nucleus of kids coming back," said Coach Herman.
McCarthy will return as a senior. And of Vineyard's 16 seniors, only eight were starters, including just three on the defensive line.
"We think we are in good shape to start next year," said Coach Herman. The Vineyarders are now 4-2 in Super Bowl appearances after their third consecutive trip.
Returning from Boston on the 6:15 boat from Woods Hole, the squad was greeted by cars flashing lights and honking horns as well as cheers from fans, proving that for Islanders the football team will always be champions.