Almost everyone on the Island knew it even before the final seconds ticked off the clock. If they didn't, they knew it before the Nantucket fans sailed for home at 4 p.m. The Vineyarders beat the Whalers in the final football game of the season. It was a good contest – and it was a sweet victory.

Any Vineyarder who had the slightest inclination to find out, already knows the score was 26-14, and that the Nov. 18 game was the best of the season. But the moment when Head Coach Donald Herman held the Island trophy above his head, his team surrounding him, reaching to touch the silver cup, will never be old news. It was sweet.

After Nantucket called their last timeout with 55 seconds to play, more than 1,000 Vineyarder fans began to realize that it was almost their time, something that has not happened often in the last 10 years or so. Team members on the sidelines began to jump, and Fan Paciello, father of Louis, prepared the cannon for the victory volley.

It happened, the game ended, the cannon fired, the Oak Bluffs and Chilmark fire trucks in the end zone sounded the sirens, the Vineyard fans were on their feet in one explosive motion, the cheers and applause continued as team members congratulated each other and rushed toward the center of the field and the symbol of this victory.

“Winning the cup feels great,” coach Herman said, jostled by his team.

“It's back,” the players shouted.

It was sweet.

Niko Vega, the 305-pound tackle who cleared the way for two Louis Paciello touchdowns, was taking slaps on the back, his hand raised in a victory sign, just minutes after he regained conciousness. Vega was shaken up in the fourth quarter goal line play. But now he was celebrating with gusto.

Todd Araujo held that trophy too. Turning slowly so everyone could see. Araujo, who was named quarterback to the Mayflower League all-star team and who came close to 2,000 all-purpose yards this year, deferred to his partner, running back Paciello.

"It feels good," he said, shouting above the cheers, then pointing to number 35 at his side, "He's the man today."

Paciello rushed for over 1,000 yards this season and, with Araujo, scored the bulk of the Vineyarders' 283 points in this extraordinary year of nine wins and one close, heartbreaking loss.

"It felt like we were state champs," coach Herman said.

From this center field celebration, the word reached out across Martha's Vineyard. In Vineyard Haven, the streets were quiet, the look of mid-winter had settled on the Island, under a raw gray sky. A cab was parked in the Steamship Authority lot and the driver rolled down the window as a friend passed.

"Did you hear? We won," she called out.

The friend knew. Everyone in the community knew. People waved to passing cars with a nod that said, "Did you hear? We won."

Just those simple words for a simple, sweet victory for the people who make this Island a year-round home. There was no need for loud victory celebrations, no need to say too much in these private winter months. Only the few quiet winter words: "Did you hear?"

This victory belongs to the Vineyarders. Many of the spectators, like Dale McClure, who played football all four of his high school years 20 years ago, remembers this rivalry in 1966 and in 1979, in any year.

This game is like a separate season. It always comes at the end of Indian summer, and the beginning of the gathering of winter.

This is an Island ritual that belongs to the people who remain when that other season, the summer season, ends — the people who scallop and clean houses and work in so many other everyday jobs to make ends meet in the off season.

This is the second victory against Nantucket in a decade, and for those who are still counting, the 12th in 41 years. For now it is enough. Next year may be different. Araujo and Paciello graduate this year, and the Nantucket team is young. But for this winter season the trophy will remain at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School. As coach Herman put it, "We're going to enjoy the moment."

The afternoon bus rolled into Vineyard Haven at 3:30, packed with Nantucket fans on their way home. The Hy-Line ferry Great Point was docked at the Steamship Authority wharf. The Nantucket fans filed single file, back on the boat, clutching blankets and thermos bottles. They were silent.

This contest is always played with intensity, and in the past the teams and fans have been less than cordial. But this year the game was, in coach Herman's words, "first class."

The Vineyard defensive line was key, stopping one Nantucket drive in the third quarter at the goal line. Offensive tackle Vega and offensive lineman Harold Lawry were at the center critical Vineyard plays. John Cataloni had a fantastic day. He started the first touchdown drive with a long catch. And following an Araujo interception late in the second quarter, Cataloni made a diving catch on the Whalers 12.

Paciello fininshed up the work seven hard-fought plays later, and Araujo found John Gonsalves for the conversion making it 14-6. Cataloni broke up a Nantucket drive in the third, and made another picturesque catch late in the fourth quarter that was called back on a penalty.

The third Vineyard touchdown came after a remarkable 92-yard, 22-play drive that lasted almost five minutes. Paciello scored a third time to make it 20-6. Lineman Lawry made a

crucial play in the fourth. The 160-pound lineman hit Nantucket quarterback Chris Frame on about the Whaler 5-yard line, the ball skittled into the end zone, and Gonsalves dove on it for the final score, making it 26-6.

Nantucket pulled together a long drive and managed to score with only minutes left to play, but it was not enough. When the clock ran out, the final score read: Vineyard 26; Nantucket 14.

This was a great Vineyarders team, perhaps the best ever. The team broke all kinds of records, including most wins at 9, the most shutouts at 4, the most take aways at 17. The team racked up a total of 283 points and gave up only 54.

And of course the trophy belongs to our Island at last. Todd Araujo and Louis Paciello have plenty to be proud of, and the Island has a memory to last through the longest winter months, this year and for many years to come.

Did you hear? We won.