The scouting reports are in and Whaler Pride is back. The last Nantucket team the Vineyard faced finished the season 0-10, capped by an embarrassing 43-22 Island Cup thrashing that saw Vineyard coach Don Herman pull most of his starters by halftime.
This isn’t that same Nantucket team. Led by second-year junior quarterback Taylor Hughes, the Whalers are 7-3 coming off an impressive 22-12 win over Tri-County in Franklin last Saturday. A win would propel the Whalers to their best record since 1998. The Vineyarders meanwhile are 6-3, still licking their wounds from a valiant effort against Nauset last Friday in a 20-14 loss.
Anticipation is high on both sides as the stalled series resumes.
“Defensively they play very disciplined,” Coach Herman said of the Nantucket squad on Monday. “They’re very aggressive to the football. They’re getting back to being a sound football team.“
Nevertheless, Coach Herman calls the matchup favorable for his team in both size and speed and he hopes to exploit the Whalers’ undersized offensive line. They will be well prepared to do so after a Nauset loss in which the Vineyarders lined up across from two 300-plus pound offensive linemen and two similarly mammoth running backs. Coach Herman respectfully suggests that the Whalers schedule has been perhaps a bit more forgiving.
“This might be the only game this season where we might be a bigger team physically on the field,” he said.
To overcome the Vineyard’s size advantage, the Whalers will likely throw a variety of looks at the Vineyard defense. The Whalers like to spread the field and operate out of a no-huddle shotgun offense. This year Nantucket coach John Aloisi says that his team has been employing a number of offensive concepts, including the wing T, one-back and no-back formations.
“We’re very multiple,” he told the Gazette on Monday. “We really do a lot of different things on offense.”
The Vineyard, on the other hand, also runs a no-huddle offense, but heavily favors the option, a play that is designed to capitalize on senior standout Randall Jette’s speed.
The difference-maker in Saturday’s game, as it has been all year, may well be Jette, the blisteringly fast senior playmaker who lines up on both sides of the ball as both quarterback and as a defensive back.
“If we can create some opportunities for Randall to get loose, they don’t have anybody on their side that can catch him. Very few people do,” said Coach Herman. Last week against Nauset, Jette’s raw athletic ability was on display during a 60-yard touchdown run.
“He literally went into a different gear when he outran everyone down the sideline,” the Vineyard coach said.
Mr. Aloisi knows that Jette poses a unique challenge.
“He is a really, really good player so we certainly have to stop him,” he said. “Their backfield is also strong, so slowing them down is going to be a big challenge.”
That backfield features a committee of unsung workhorses including Brian Montambault, Chris Costello and Tyler Araujo; the latter will be inactive for Saturday’s game after suffering a concussion in last week’s game. Injuries may play a role in the game as the Vineyarders may be down as many as five players for the matchup.
“Our number one focus this week is getting healthy,” Coach Herman said.
Although the results have been lopsided in recent years, there is plenty of respect on both sides of the Sound.
“The Vineyard’s a very impressive team,” said Coach Aloisi. “We’re focusing on just bringing our best game, that’s really it.”
To Coach Herman, this year’s Island Cup is all about pride.
“There’s a lot at stake,” he said. “Neither one of us is going to the playoffs so we might as well let it all hang out for this game.”