In a heart-breaking, back-and-forth football game, the Vineyarders fell 8-6 in overtime to the Salem Witches as the Island’s Friday night lights shined bright on Saturday for the first time in two fall seasons.

Scheduled originally to play Bristol-Plymouth in an away game on Friday, the team called a quick audible when their opponent had to cancel because of a Covid outbreak, instead asking Salem to travel to the Island for a Saturday match.

The Witches accepted the last minute challenge, but it meant the Vineyard — a young team with a new starting quarterback — would face a tough non-conference opponent in its first fall-season home game since the Covid-19 pandemic. As parents and students, dressed for a “white-out,” filed into the bleachers on a sun-drenched Saturday, spectators soaked in the traditional rite of fall almost all said they had dearly missed.

Regulation ended in a 0-0 tie, with gritty play on both sides. Salem won in overtime 8-6. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“This is fantastic,” said longtime Vineyard sports superfan Richard “eagle-eye” Stone, sitting in his personal spot, dead-center in the top row of the bleachers, binoculars in hand. “My butt hasn’t been this sore for two years.”

A game that would see more penalties than points began as it went for most of the first four quarters, with the Vineyard defense forcing a quick three-and-out from Salem after a two-yard tackle for a loss from senior captain Kaleb Hatt.

But the Vineyarders offense couldn’t capitalize on Salem’s inability to move the ball, forced into a four-and-out of their own and starting a back-and-forth tidal battle that would ebb and flow for the next three quarters.

Egged on by five-foot, 85-pound freshman Liam Bruni from the sideline, the Vineyard student section shedded their lethargy and rose from the seats as the second and third quarter progressed and a bright moon replaced the setting sun. They inspired a strong possession that reached its pinnacle with a 25-yard completion from Atlas Zack to a diving Jayden Coyle. Zack couldn’t complete the drive, though, throwing a red zone interception that gave the ball back to Salem.

Students arrived in big numbers dressed in white to cheer on their team. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“They’re playing good, smash-mouth football, as Coach Herman calls it,” Mr. Stone said in his mid-game analysis. “But it’s enjoyable to watch these guys. The effort is there.”

Strong defensive play and a host of penalties, including unsportsmanlike conduct, illegal blocks and holding kept both offenses stagnant after halftime, despite bulldozing plays from Salem’s 6-foot, two-inch, 250-pound quarterback, running back and receiver Corey Grimes. And a third-quarter concussion to senior running back Ty Matthew, who had literally and figuratively carried the Vineyard throughout the first half with 11 runs for 45 yards, hushed the crowd as he was carted off the field in an ambulance.

With about two minutes left in the fourth quarter and the game still tied at 0-0, Coach Herman decided to punt, pinning Salem at their own 20 yard line. The defense finished the game with a sack, forcing overtime, and, more importantly, extra fall football for a community that had been deprived of it for the past two years.

Digging for every last yard. — Mark Alan Lovewell

A complicated process in high school football that involves both teams getting the ball on the 10 yard line and trying to score, the overtime period packed a game’s-worth of points and pressure into the final ten minutes.

After Salem scored in four plays and completed a two-point conversion on their fifth, making the score 8-0, the Vineyard did their best to match, forcing the ball to the two-yard line on three carries. With one final chance to tie the game, the coaching staff rolled Atlas Zack out to his weak side, acting on the “throw the ball” chants that had echoed from the student section throughout the game. The quarterback looked left and found junior Brendan Wood in the corner, threading a pass through a sea of Witches for a touchdown in only his second completion of the game.

Step one, check.

But Jayden Coyle was stopped inches short of the end zone on the Vineyard’s two-point conversion attempt, ending the game in heart break with a score of 8-6.

Next home game is this Friday, Sept. 24. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“We played hard, but we didn’t play smart,” a disappointed Coach Don Herman said by the water cooler after the game. “I like the fight my guys made tonight, but we have to find a way to make fewer mistakes.”

He pointed to getting more push on the line of scrimmage, where the Vineyard has three sophomores, and penalties as issues that need work. But he also pointed to something else as fans cleared the stadium and a crisp Island breeze filled the night air.

“This feels like football,” Coach Herman said.