You could hear the crowd rumbling on Saturday before the ferry carrying the high school football team, fresh from its 47-22 win over Nantucket in the annual Island Cup, had even docked in Vineyard Haven.
Like a parade welcoming a conquering army, about 200 residents had staked out the Steamship Authority wharf, ready to shower the team in adoration following the Vineyarders’ fourth consecutive Island Cup victory over Nantucket. Police cruisers and fire trucks had joined the fray, with flashing lights and blaring sirens to mark the cup’s return to Vineyard soil.
But despite the din outside, the players inside the boat shared a quiet moment as they stood in a ragged circle around the fabled Island Cup, their arms draped around one another. After all the hours of practice, games and long boat rides to meet off-Island foes, this was the moment they had dreamed of all year.
“This is it, baby. This is what it’s all about,” one player said quietly to no one in particular.
As the vehicles started their engines and began to clear out, giving the crowd a direct view of the cup and the team, the players suddenly perked up, pumping their fists and shouting at the top of their lungs. Most held up four fingers to signify the Vineyard had now won the Island Cup four years in a row, a first for any Vineyard team.
“We made history over [on Nantucket] today,” yelled one player.
The goal of winning four consecutive Island cups was rarely mentioned during the regular season. Coach Donald Herman didn’t discuss it much even in the week leading up to the game, but acknowledged following the game that his players had eyed winning the Vineyard’s fourth consecutive Island Cup since the start of the season.
“This is the first time any graduating class will hold the distinction of keeping the cup all four years they were in school. That meant a lot to our seniors, and they were determined to win here today,” Coach Herman said.
In the lopsided win, the Vineyarders also scored the most points by either team in the cup’s history.
Although the final scoreboard would show they had won by more than three touchdowns, the game was much closer than the score indicated. The Whalers had a chance to pull within one touchdown in the closing minutes of the first half, and managed to keep the Vineyarders scoreless during the third quarter.
But in the end, the Vineyarders’ pounding running game and swarming defense proved to be too much for the Whalers, who turned the ball over three times, leading to 21 Vineyard points.
The game opened on a sloppy note, when the Vineyard turned the ball over on the game’s first play from the line of scrimmage on a botched hand off. But the Vineyarders got the equalizer immediately when defensive end Bastile Lucier ran around the Whalers’ offensive line and stripped quarterback Geddes Paulsen of the ball to regain possession.
The Vineyarders scored their first touchdown six plays later when Alan Fortes scored from two yards out. Fortes set the tone early for the Vineyarders, gaining 56 of his 70 yards in the first half. Josh Paulson rushed for 107 yards, and David Amabile gained 107 with four touchdowns to lead all scorers, although Fortes did much of the leg work, running hard into the middle of the Whalers line and moving the pile for important yards and first downs. 
“It was smash mouth, in-your-face football. That’s the way [Fortes] likes it,” said a grinning coach Herman on the field seconds after the game had ended.
The Vineyarders took a 14-0 lead following Amabile’s first touchdown of the game, although the Whalers climbed back into the game after Mark Dwyer returned a kickoff for 60 yards and Paulsen connected with Tomas Smaliorius for a 21-yard touchdown.
Paulsen easily had the best game for the Whalers, throwing for one touchdown in the first half and rushing for another in the second. He completed 16 of 26 passes overall, although his wide receivers dropped two balls for touchdowns and several other well-placed throws that would have given the Whalers first downs.
“That [Paulsen] kid played excellent. He can play for my team any day,” Coach Herman said.
In perhaps the most dramatic stretch of the game, Paulsen drove the Whalers down the field to the Vineyard’s 10 yard line with Nantucket trailing 28-14 with less than two minutes to play in the first half. Although the clock showed no time left, a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Vineyard gave the Whalers one last shot.
Paulsen rolled right, saw an open field and headed for the goal line, but Vineyard cornerback Terrell Johnson chased him down and pushed him out of bounds as he dove over the pile on. He missed scoring a touchdown by mere inches.
“That could have changed the whole game if he got in there. I think if we let them to get to within one touchdown at the half we were looking at a very different second half,” Coach Herman said.
Nantucket opened the second half with a 10-play drive that stalled on a fourth-quarter incompletion after a 26-yard bomb from Paulsen to Tomas Smaliorius was negated after Paulsen was ruled over the line of scrimmage when he threw.
The score remained the same throughout the third quarter and into the fourth when Amabile made two spin moves to thwart defenders and scored from 18 yards out. The Whalers fumbled the ball on their next possession, allowing quarterback Mike McCarthy to scramble for a touchdown from five yards out. Both the Whalers and the Vineyarders added touchdowns later in the fourth quarter. 
Saturday’s win was the Vineyarder’s seventh in the past eight Island Cup games. Where once Nantucket dominated the annual interIsland match-up, winning nine out of the first ten held, the balance of power has now clearly shifted to the Vineyard.
Nantucket coach Vito Capizzo said his team played well, but fell victim to a number of turnovers and penalties.
“Stupid mistakes killed us today. But overall I was proud of the way the kids hung in there,” he said.
The Vineyard team finished the season at 8-3 overall and 4-1 in their conference, and the Whalers finished at 6-5 and 4-1 in their conference.