Martha's Vineyard needed a touchdown. Twenty-six seconds left on the clock. Archrival Nantucket up 26-21. First and goal, seven yards to reach the promised land of the Nantucket end zone. Vineyard quarterback Alec Tattersall walked toward the stands of Dan McCarthy Memorial Field, raising his arms over his head — get on your feet, Vineyard, on your feet. His teammates followed suit, arms lifted, encouraging, and the once-quiet crowd roared back to life.

The Vineyarders lined up against the Whalers yet again, and the clock counted down. Tattersall threw a seven-yard pass to junior running back Joe Turney. Turney nabbed the football and rushed into the end zone. 27-26, Martha’s Vineyard. They’d done it again. For the 10th year in a row, the Island Cup would stay at home. But no victory felt quite like this one.

Vineyard fans on the edge of their seats. — Katie Ruppel

“That’s how we do it!” junior back Kyle Stobie called as the team gathered to pose with the cup and the Great American Rivalry Series trophy. “That’s Vineyard football!”

“This is going to take some time to soak in,” Vineyard head coach Donald Herman said. “This is an incredible, incredible high school football game, of any level . . . but for high school football, wow, I’m really at a loss for words. I can’t say enough about the way these guys stuck together, fought together, especially those last five minutes of the football game.”

Fans filled the bleachers and lined the fences early for the junior high and junior varsity games on Saturday. Nantucket took both, winning junior high 22-6 despite the Vineyard scoring first, and going 44-24 in the JV match. The 13 Vineyard seniors, including managers Micheli Lynn and Maggie Riseborough, and cameraman Caleb Enos, were recognized prior to the varsity match. Senior Stuart Hersh received additional recognition by the Great American Rivalry Series, earning the scholar-athlete award.

A moment of silence was held for former Vineyard player Ralph Case, who died last week. Riseborough performed a quietly powerful rendition of the National Anthem and the game was underway.

It was a rough first quarter for the Vineyard, while Nantucket, as senior running back Brandon Watkins said after the game, “came out fighting.” Earlier in the week, Nantucket head coach Bill Manchester told the Gazette the Whalers hadn’t been physical enough in last year’s rivalry game, but his 2012 squad was more than a match for the purple and white. The Whalers scored first after an 85-yard run by Nantucket’s Dylan Perry, three plays after shutting down a Vineyard fourth-and-goal play on the five-yard line, but did not get the extra point.

“I really thought we blew some serious opportunities in the first quarter,” Coach Herman said. “And I was really concerned it was going to come back and bite us.”

The second quarter was a back-and-forth defensive struggle. The Vineyard scored its first touchdown early on a 20-yard rush by Turney. The Whalers scored their second late on a quarterback keeper by Bryan Depass. The half ended with Nantucket up 14-7, a lead the Whalers extended at the start of the third quarter, after another three-play scoring drive led to Perry’s second touchdown of the game.

With Nantucket up 20-7, Watkins’s 55-yard kickoff return set up a 36-yard Turney rush for the second Vineyard touchdown. Success was short-lived; Whaler fullback Hunter Gray scored two plays later, but here again, the extra point was no good. Vineyard senior Mike Cutrer closed the day three for three with extra points, a statistic that would make all the difference.

The defensive battle continued as the fourth quarter began with Nantucket up 26-14. Depass was sacked by Vineyard junior Andrew Jacobs-Walsh, and Tattersall by Correia on the Vineyard’s next drive. Forced turnovers seemed as common as the rally signs lining Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.

Alec Tattersall set season record for passing yards. — Katie Ruppel

With four minutes and 41 seconds left in the game, Nantucket punted to the 50-yard line.

And things began to look familiar to Donald Herman and assistant coach Jason O’Donnell. In the 1992 Island Cup (which O’Donnell played in), the Vineyarders were down by 12 points with four minutes and 40 seconds left on the clock. The team that year came back to score two touchdowns and win the game. The 2012 squad had watched a highlight film earlier that day.

“I remember looking up at the clock,” Coach Herman said. “26-14, 4:41 . . . okay, 12 points, 4:40 to go to the end of the game. I turned to Coach B [Bill Belcher] and said “This is eerily similar.’”

“You look at the clock and you always have to think of that point,” Coach O’Donnell said. “That's what we said over the headphones: Hey, we’ve got time, we can still do this.”

With 4:13 on the clock and the Vineyard at second and 10 on the 50-yard line, Tattersall launched a pass into the end zone, where Watkins — the five-foot eight-inch, 150-pound player told in junior high he was too small to play football — outleapt his Nantucket defender and caught the ball. Cutrer, the unsung hero, booted the extra point to make the score 26-21.

Nantucket was unable to advance the ball more than six yards on its next drive and was at fourth and four when Stobie brought down Gray to force the turnover. Watkins returned the kickoff; two pass completions and one quarterback sack later, the Vineyarders were at fourth and 16 on their own 14-yard line.

“I'm not going to lie, I was nervous,” Tattersall said after the game. “[But] we're always going to keep fighting. We’re a come-from-behind team. That’s how we’ve done it all year, so never doubt us.”

And never doubt Tattersall, who was named the MVP of the game by Great American Rivalry Series voters and Comeback Kid by Vineyard PA announcer Tim Lowe. Sacks and incomplete passes aside, the senior kept his composure in the fourth quarter and began to engineer the comeback.

Michael Cutrer led the defensive effort. — Katie Ruppel

The snap on fourth and 16 was low and bounced off the ground.

“We laugh about it now . . . our center does that at least once a game,” Coach Herman said. “So it’s not like he hasn’t seen it before, but you don’t want that to happen on fourth down with the game on the line there.”

But Tattersall scooped up the football and threw to Watkins for a first down at the 45 with 1:27 left in the game. The Vineyard pushed to second and one on the Nantucket 26, and as the clock ticked to 0:53, Tattersall spiked the ball on the ground to stop time, taking the third down. After another first down to the 25-yard line, Tattersall and Turney connected on a 17-yard pass with 32 seconds left, setting up the final victory touchdown.

Tattersall finished with 222 passing yards, breaking the Vineyard single-season passing record with 1,333 yards on the season. Turney rushed for 75 yards and Watkins for 64, pushing his season total over 900. Watkins also led the day in receiving yards, with 78 total. Senior Jahmari Thomas finished with 74 receiving yards and Turney with 53. Cutrer led the defensive effort with 15 tackles. Senior Doug Andrade had 12 tackles, while juniors Kyle Stobie and Tony Canha had 11 and 10, respectively. Freshman Jacob Cardoza started at safety and had 17 receiving yards: “Just think,” Coach Herman said to Cardoza as he left the gym, “You were playing eighth grade football this time last year.”

With the win, the Vineyard earned a 7-4 season record. Coach Herman shaved his mustache, the result of a promise made to the team earlier in the season.

Nantucket closed the season at 4-7.

“I think that might have been the problem, we might have overlooked them too much and looked at their record,” Tattersall said. “But that was a real good team.”

“They've got athletes, they always seem to have athletes,” Coach Herman said, “And they were well-prepared.”

“You gotta give it to them,” Watkins said. “That was a great game. It was the best game I ever played.”