Photography by David Creed
The Island Cup has called Nantucket home for the past six years, but it is currently on a one-year leave until 2023 after Martha's Vineyard was able to beat the Whalers 14-13 on their home field in a game filled with penalties and costly errors.
The Whalers got off to an excellent start, swarming Vineyard senior quarterback TJ Lett and forcing a punt on the opening drive. Nantucket then quickly drove the field and capped off an impressive opening drive with a 19-yard touchdown run by junior running back Jayquan Francis to make it a 7-0 game after the extra point with 4:35 to go in the opening quarter.
The Vineyard answered with an impressive drive of their own. Lett was able to lead his team down the field and score from about four yards out to make it a 7-7 game just 38 seconds into the second quarter.
The Whalers have struggled offensively all season, but put together some of their best offensive football in this first half on Saturday. Nantucket didn't waste any time reclaiming the lead after the Vineyard tied the game, with senior running back Kareem Maxwell scoring on a 22-yard run to give the Whalers a 13-7 lead after a missed extra point with 8:38 left in the first half.
Martha's Vineyard tried to answer again, but to no avail. Nantucket forced a fumble at midfield to give Nantucket possession back with about five minutes left in the half. It gave the Whalers a golden opportunity to expand their lead to two scores. They began to drive the field but, as the game would go, they mirrored the Vineyard and coughed the ball up themselves to give possession right back to the Vineyarders with 2:01 left in the first half.
The Whalers had one of two touchdowns called back just prior to this fumble. It was a game where Nantucket racked up over 120 yards in penalties. Francis appeared to have his second score of the game, but a holding call brought the play back and eventually paved the way for the fumble to occur that prevented the Vineyard from falling into a two-touchdown hole.
Nantucket forced a punt and took a few shots to the end zone before the half. One pass in particular was nicely thrown by junior quarterback Carlos Aguilar and appeared to be caught by Francis at the Vineyard two-yard line, but the officials called it incomplete after some brief discussion amongst themselves. The teams went into halftime with Nantucket clinging to a 13-7 lead.
The Whalers had the luxury of knowing they would receive the second half kickoff, however it didn't go as planned. Francis had a nice return but went down with an injury on the play. Then on the first play of scrimmage in the half, Nantucket fumbled away possession with Francis out of the game. The Vineyard took over on Nantucket's 42 and drove the field. Lett scored his second rushing touchdown of the game with 9:50 left in the third quarter. The worst case scenario for Nantucket to begin the second half had become a reality, and the Whalers suddenly found themselves trailing 14-13.
Francis attempted to return in the next drive before re-injuring himself on his first play back in the game. He never returned to the game, however Nantucket kept driving the field on that drive as they attempted to answer the Vineyard's second half score. They were eventually stopped and head coach Tim Psaradelis sent out his field goal unit to attempt a 37-yard field goal. But the kick sailed wide left and the Vineyard regained possession while preserving their one-point lead with 2:09 to go in the third quarter.
The Whaler's defense began to contain Lett and force him inside on his runs after he did most of his damage on the outside in the first half and first drive of the second half. As Lett slowed down, so did the Vineyard offense. They were forced to punt just minutes later and gave Nantucket the ball back with 9:30 to go in the game at the Vineyard 22-yard line.
That's when Maxwell had the run of his life, scampering to the end zone for a 78-yard touchdown run that sent his teammates, the sideline, and the hundreds of Whaler fans in attendance into a frenzy. That was, until, the run was called back for a penalty behind the play that put Nantucket into a 1st and 15 situation.
Nantucket had to punt, but the defense did its job and gave the Vineyard nothing on their offensive drive. The stop gave the Whaler's another possession, another chance at keeping the Cup on Nantucket with five minutes to go in the game.
Nantucket began to drive the field before they were stopped at the Vineyard's 30-yard line. The Whalers opted for a 47-yard field goal attempt to take a slim lead. The kick went up and had the perfect accuracy down the middle, but fell a couple yards short of the crossbar. It gave the Vineyard possession back with 52 seconds remaining. They ran out the clock and chaos ensued on the field.
The Vineyard walked off the field with the Cup, where it will stay for at least the next year until these two programs meet again and Nantucket attempts to bring it home.