Island Cup Victory Punctuates Season
By MAX HART
With less than four minutes left in the Martha's Vineyard-Nantucket football game Saturday, several Vineyard players snuck up behind special teams, linebacker and tight end coach Stephen Barbee and doused him with a large Gatorade bucket full of ice water.
The traditional prank was a fitting end to the afternoon for a coach who saw all three of his units play a starring role in the Vineyard's convincing 27-12 win over the archrival Whalers on a bright but chilly day at McCarthy Field.
"We just played well and took advantage of their mistakes," head coach Donald Herman said after his own Gatorade shower. "Our defense, especially, really came out to play, and their efforts showed that."
Considering that The Game last year was not decided until the final seconds, when E.J. Sylvia's 29-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to give the Vineyard a 21-20 lead, the fact that any coach was being showered with more than three minutes remaining seemed a bit out of place. But in a rivalry that has proven time and again that anything can - and will - happen, this year's contest showed that sometimes the better team just wins decisively.
And unlike last year, when the Vineyard's water boy was almost run over by a Nantucket kickoff returner as time expired, there was no controversial end to this game. The Game was effectively over by the end of the first quarter, when the Vineyard had already jumped out to a 17-0 lead.
A 20-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Ryan Rossi to Sylvia, the senior tight end, started the scoring. It was followed quickly by a 25-yard field goal by Sylvia and a thrilling fumble recovery and 66-yard touchdown run by junior David Amabile. All three scores were the result of Nantucket turnovers.
"We really hit them hard," Mr. Herman said. "It was a very physical quarter."
The win was the third straight Island Cup victory for the Vineyard, who improved their Island Cup record to 11-17. The Vineyarders improved their overall record against the Whalers to 21-35-3. The Vineyard ends the season 7-3 while the Whalers dropped to 1-9 - their first losing season since 1976.
It was an especially good day for the seniors in their last game.
Senior wing back Tristan Atwood ran for 80 yards on 17 carries. John Swann ran for an eight-yard touchdown in the second quarter and had an interception. And Sylvia, with a touchdown reception, two field goals and three extra points, scored 15 of the Vineyarders 27 points; he single-handedly outscored the entire Whaler offense.
Nantucket, on the other hand, struggled all day to hold onto the ball, taking punishing hits from a charged-up defense. Their first three possessions were quickly coughed up and converted into Vineyard touchdowns. In fact, the Whalers did not even get on the board until the fourth quarter, well after Mr. Herman made many player substitutions.
The win was also a fitting tribute to defensive coordinator Bill Belcher, who is stepping down after 15 seasons as Mr. Herman's chief assistant. As the Vineyarders stormed the field after the final canon sounded, Mr. Belcher was mobbed by his players. He beamed as he held the Island Cup aloft one last time.
"Coach B is the best," senior Tony Cortez shouted as the celebration continued. "This is for him. We were glad we could let him go out on top like this."
Mr. Belcher and some of the seniors seemed to have a hard time leaving the field for the last time, lingering on the sidelines with family and friends. Cortez and Atwood were among the last to leave, receiving hugs from girlfriends and family members and ignoring the cuts and scrapes from the physical battle.
"You just kind of want to let it soak in," Cortez said. "It never gets old."