The football team has some momentum going into this Sunday’s Island Cup game against Nantucket — 32 horsepower, if you will, after its 32-0 win against Cathedral High School Friday.

It was the first win of the season for the team but it came at just the right time.

“We finally got the gorilla off our back,” said head coach Don Herman earlier this week as he prepared his team for their biggest game of the season.

“All records are tossed out the window for the Island Cup,” Coach Herman said. “It’s a one-game season.”

The Island Cup was orginally scheduled to take place Saturday on Nantucket, but due to the weather it has been rescheduled for Sunday, with kickoff planned for 2 p.m. A fan boat leaves the Vineyard on Oct. 31 at 7 a.m. and it’s not just for football fans. Field hockey and boys and girls soccer also play at Nantucket Saturday, as well as the junior high football team. Passenger tickets for the fan boat are $40 (vehicle spots have sold out), and they are available at the regional high school front office, or at the boat the day of the game. The ferry returns to the Island a half hour after the game ends.

But it is the football game that takes center stage, the storied rivalry with the Whalers going back to 1953 when the first game was played.

Coach Don Herman gets his team ready earlier this week. — Mark Alan Lovewell.

“If you can’t get excited for this game you don’t have a pulse,” Coach Herman said.

Asked about his strategy for the game, Coach Herman stayed tight lipped about plays, not wanting to give anything away to the other side. But practice week would include two new elements, he said. For one, the team is forbidden to even say the word Nantucket all season.

“They weren’t allowed say it until after last game,” Coach Herman said.

In addition to finally giving voice to their competition, it was time to introduce the Walk Away drill.

“Football is an emotional game,” Coach Herman explained. “And playing over there, it’s a hostile environment that we will encounter, which I love. I think it’s fun.”

But it can also be disorienting, especially for an inexperienced team, Coach Herman said.

“Only three players have experienced the Island Cup game because we didn’t have it last year due to Covid.”

Senior night last Friday was emotional for players and fans. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Thus, the Walk Away drill.

“The players have carte blanche all week in practice to say whatever they want to the other players. We coaches aren’t allowed to react. And it can get pretty heated.”

After five days of this, Coach Herman said the players get used to hearing a lot of insults and not reacting, just walking away back to the huddle. At least that’s the plan, but of course it is one thing having teammates lay on the verbal abuse. Walking into Nantucket’s house is another thing altogether.

“Plus, they are fast,” Coach Herman said. “And it’s tough to coach against speed.”

There is also the weather to contend with as the two Islands were battered with a northeaster this week that looks to linger into the weekend. Coach Herman recalled the game of 2002 when the wind was so bad his extra point kicker saw the ball actually get pushed backwards instead over the goal posts.

“That was back when we flew over,” he said. “I went over early and when my plane landed I was told all the other flights were canceled. We played the game, but NBC was filming it, to play it at halftime at the Notre Dame game. But they couldn’t film because the wind kept blowing the cameras around.”

He continued to describe the conditions of that game, when exactly his team scored and how Nantucket scored. Asked if he had perfect recall of every Island Cup, he smiled.

“Pretty much,” he said.

Let the cheering begin. — Mark Alan Lovewell

His coaches do too. Three out of four of Coach Herman’s staff played under him and were part of the 1992 squad that launched a comeback after nearly every fan had given up on them.

“There were over 5,000 fans in the stands,” recalled assistant coach Albie Robinson. “And nearly every one of them left. We were down 12-0 with 4:46 left in the game.”

Coach Robinson played safety and wide receiver back then. He caught the first touchdown to start the comeback which saw the Vineyarders win 14-12.

Coach Robinson is in his second year of coaching, so even though he has experience as a player this will be his first coaching tour at the Island Cup.

“Playing is easier than coaching,” he said. “There’s a lot more anxiety as a coach. As a player, after that first hit the nerves go away.”

Coach Robinson, like nearly many who were in the football program, stayed in touch with Coach Herman long after high school, becoming good friends along the way. But that doesn’t mean the longtime coach has mellowed over the years.

“He’s pretty tough but I’m not as scared of him as I was back then,” Coach Robinson said.

With that, Coach Robinson headed onto the practice field to help get the team ready, to explain the Walk Away drill, and run them through a myriad of plays that he wouldn’t discuss either. But he did have one word of advice for fans.

“Never leave early,” he said.

The rescheduling of the game from Saturday to Sunday occurred after the paper had gone to print and so the print version of the Gazette does not include the most up-to-date information.