Super Bowl Champs Poised for Opener

By JOSHUA SABATINI

The Martha's Vineyard high school football team took to the field Saturday for a final scrimmage before regular season opens for the squad at home this Friday evening.

Vineyard fans showed up for the morning scrimmage beneath a cloudless sky to have a final peek at the team before the wins and losses begin to count for the 2002 season.

And while the match-up against E.O. Smith High School, of Storrs, Conn., was just a scrimmage - there were no kickoffs - fans were ready as well with occasional cheering; one fan even came out armed with a cowbell.

The first half of play had the Vineyard starters on the field versus E.O. Smith's. But by the third quarter, head coach Donald Herman began to substitute his second string and in the fourth quarter the Island's junior varsity squad took to the field.

At halftime, the Island led 12-7.

Senior Eric McCarthy, wearing number 10, is leading the team this year as quarterback. Coach Herman said McCarthy's strength is his passing, as he's not as quick on the ground as last year's quarterback, Keith Crossland, who graduated.

McCarthy was tapped for the starting position last year, but was sidelined for eight weeks after breaking his collarbone in the season opener. Crossland consequently led the team for much of the year, though the two shared the job when McCarthy returned. This season, McCarthy's ready to take the helm again.

"He is smart," said Coach Herman. "He has good poise."

Walking off the field at halftime, McCarthy shouted out to his teammates, "All right, that's the way to look Vineyard. Got to get better, but that's the way to look."

The 2002 Vineyard squad may be a bit less speedy than last year's team, said Coach Herman, with the loss of Crossland and running back Tim Higgins.

But the team is by no means slow. Junior J.D. Wild returns this year after a strong performance running the ball last season, and senior Nicholi Sullo is expected to have success carrying the ball downfield as well.

Against E.O. Smith, Sullo had an outside run over half the field for a touchdown.

"I love to run the ball," said Coach Herman.

When the coach opts for launching the pigskin, McCarthy will have solid receivers this year in seniors Ben Gunn and Ted Desrosiers.

In Saturday's scrimmage, McCarthy completed a pass to Gunn for the second touchdown of the day.

McCarthy should have the time he needs in the pocket. Coach Herman said pass protection is solid this year, with three of last year's starters back in the mix on the offensive line.

Two strong defensive ends will not appear in the defensive line for Friday's game. Chris Brown was sidelined after an ankle injury in a team practice. It is not known when he will be cleared to return to the field. Zach Mahoney is out after surgery, but is likely to return for the second game of the season.

Coach Herman said the defense will be strong in stopping the run, but may be a little short on pass coverage.

On Friday, at 6:30 p.m., the Vineyard squad will battle Coyle-Cassidy on the home field. There will be a brand new scoreboard on the grounds.

Coach Herman said the team should be ready for Friday's challenge as the players are showing improvement with each day.

"We are moving along to where we need to be," he said. "We have steadily improved with each scrimmage." (Last Saturday was the team's third.)

Some of the toughest battles for the squad will come at the start of the season.

"There is nothing easy about any of our first five games," said Coach Herman. The Island team will confront the toughest competition at the start and that, he said, should help the team prepare for league play coming in late October.

"The goal," said Coach Herman, "is to make it back to the Super Bowl."

For that to happen, he said, the team has to have a .500 or better win percentage for the season and come away as champions of the Mayflower League.