Call it Clean Slate Saturday. Anyone who has seen the Vineyard football team face off against rival Nantucket will say the same thing. Win-loss records don’t matter. It’s the Island Cup.

The 36th edition of the rivalry game will be played at the regional high school at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Junior varsity squads play at 10:30 a.m.

Victory celebration last year on Nantucket. — Ivy Ashe

Last year the Vineyard shutout Nantucket on their home field, 14-0, and took an overall series lead of 18-17. They have won the game for the past 11 years, creating an illusion of comfort while simultaneously raising the stakes for each year’s contest. Keep the Cup.

The Nantucket Whalers are 8-2 this year, and won the Mayflower League (small schools) championship. They advanced to the first round of the playoffs before falling to state champion contender Cohasset. The Vineyard is 5-5, having recovered from an 0-4 start, the worst in head coach Donald Herman’s Vineyard career.

League contests in the Eastern Athletic Conference were a particular challenge for the team this year. The Vineyard lost by just two points, 21-19, to Bishop Stang in their first home game of the season, and fell 44-18 to perennial league champion Somerset Berkley two weeks later.

“I thought we played a good team, a very, very physical team well,” Coach Herman said of the Somerset loss. The team has not lost a game since. “At that point, when we lost to Somerset, we told the team the coaches felt we had a legitimate shot at going 6-5, and so that became our mission,” Coach Herman said.

“Your goal every year is to play 13 games and win the last one — that means you’re Super Bowl champs,” he said, adding in trademark dry fashion that although the Vineyard fell short of the first part of that goal, “we do have an opportunity to win our last game.”

The Vineyard taking on Bourne under the lights. — Ivy Ashe

The team is feeling good going into Saturday’s contest, riding a four-game winning streak that has seen the Vineyard play to its full potential. The defense shutout their last two opponents completely. Seniors David Macias and Liam Smith, juniors Austin Chandler and Andy DiMattia, and sophomore Luke DeBettencourt have bolstered the line, with junior Ben Clark coming into his own in the latter half of the season. Just three starting players returned to the defensive line this year.

The offense has more than kept up its end of the bargain, scoring more than 21 points in each of the past four wins. Junior Jacob Cardoza recently set a school record for receiving yards and leads the team in touchdowns. Sophomore kicker James Sashin has proven key on extra points, with 24 so far. And the Vineyard has played a balanced game throughout the year, with 18 rushing touchdowns and 17 receiving.

A Halloween victory over Bourne was particularly touchdown-heavy, with the Vineyard winning 41-6.

“Offensively, we’ve had some explosions,” Coach Herman said. “We’re playing our best football, and this is when you want to do that.” Still, he said, “I tell the kids all the time, there’s a slim line between confidence and cocky.” Nantucket Whalers first-year head coach Brian Ryder said he is looking forward to coaching against Don Herman. “Obviously, his record speaks for itself,” Coach Ryder said.

Travis Demby of Nantucket dives across the goal line. — Cape Cod Times/Ron Schloerb

Though this is the first year Ryder is coaching, it’s not his first time playing against a Vineyard team. Ryder is a Nantucket High School alumnus (class of 1987), and played fullback and linebacker for the Whalers before moving on to a college career.

“We traditionally always had good teams,” Ryder said. The stakes were

even higher when he played, since winning the Island Cup could provide the points needed to vault the team into a state Super Bowl. These days, there is a playoff system instead of a point system.

“So it was not only the big rivalry, the Island Cup, you wanted to win it...but you were also on a run to get to the Super Bowl,” he said. During his senior year, Nantucket was 9-0 in the Mayflower League and beat the Vineyard 34-0. Ryder’s recollection of the statistics are as clear as if it happened just last year. Rivalries do not fade.

One of Coach Ryder’s goals as head coach is to bring a bit of the old era back.

“Like I told the kids, we’ve had a good year,” Coach Ryder said. “Winning Saturday will make it a great year.”