Nantucket Wins The Island Cup 27-7

Photo By Brandon Falconer

If you listened to the outside noise before Sunday afternoon’s 41st Island Cup, you likely thought the Nantucket Whalers would build a substantial lead over the Martha’s Vineyard Vineyarders early on in the game. But the Vineyard proved to be a tough opponent, making Nantucket play four quarters of physical football in order to retain the Island Cup and keep it on Nantucket.

“Great job by the seniors this year because It is always a tough game when you play the Vineyard,” Whaler head coach Joe Perry said. “You need to throw records out the window and come ready to play football. I have said Don (Herman, the Vineyard’s longtime head coach) was going to grind it out, work the clock, and that is what he did. We almost spotted them a couple points with the bad penalties so we have to clean that up but hey, we will celebrate tonight and enjoy the cup and bragging rights for another year.”

The Whalers won the Island Cup game 27-7 to keep the cup on Nantucket, where it has stayed since 2016, but the Vineyard had them on their heels early on.

The Vineyard scored on their opening drive to take an early 7-0 lead over Nantucket. They stuck to their rushing attack early to try to expose the interior of the Whaler’s defensive line and their success seemed to stun the crowd in attendance, who thought coming into the game that Nantucket would have their way with the Vineyard all game long.

But senior running back Justin Bloise, who has continued to be Nantucket’s most explosive and productive player all season, answered right back with a 49-yard touchdown catch off a well set-up screen pass from quarterback Carlos Aguilar to tie the game 7-7.

That score would stand going into the second quarter and the physical defense on both sides was continuing to ramp up. The Whalers were much more stingy defensively after that first drive and weren’t allowing the Vineyard to gash them for large chunks of yards on the ground like they did on their way to the game’s first touchdown.

The Whalers eventually forced a turnover a few minutes into the second quarter after defensive end Jeremy Caspe recovered the loose ball to give Nantucket possession in Vineyard territory. Perry said it was a good response after a sluggish start from his team.

“Sometimes you think you have the better record or the better football team on paper but (the game) happens on the field,” Perry said. “They got a taste of what could potentially happen (early on) and we have to clean that up.”

Bloise continued to have his fingerprints all over the game by scoring his second touchdown of the day, this one on the ground, to give Nantucket a 13-7 lead. Nantucket went on to miss the extra point.

The Whalers were able to stop the Vineyard again late in the second quarter to get one more crack at the end zone before halftime. Nantucket, who was set to receive the opening kickoff of the second half, was hoping to pull off a double score and put the game out of reach.

They began marching down the field, most notably converting on 4th and 12 when Aguilar found Makai Bodden open off a beautifully run out route to give the Whalers a fresh set of downs. But Aguilar made his first mistake of the game when he tried to force a ball to wide receiver JJ Bennett in the back corner of the end zone with under a minute remaining in the half. The ball was picked off by Vineyard defensive back Gabe Brito to keep it a 13-7 game going into halftime.

The Whalers found themselves needing an effective drive to begin the second half in order to regain some confidence.

Aguilar showed off his mobility on that drive, converting two fourth down opportunities on scrambles to his right to give Nantucket a fresh set of downs. Then in a 2nd and 21 situation after the Whalers were flagged for holding, Aguilar found Bloise on another well-designed screen for a gain of 25 to get Nantucket out of a tough situation and inside the Vineyard 20-yard line.

Aguilar seemed to quickly forget his miscue at the end of the first half and didn’t let it impact his play. He had the poise of a veteran quarterback under center rather than a first-year sophomore starter who missed his freshman year, fearlessly taking shots down the field and making big plays with his athleticism to keep Nantucket’s offense rolling.

“Carlos has definitely taken a lead role now for us,” Perry said. “He knows he is the quarterback after maybe second guessing a little bit earlier in the season. He knows he is that guy. He is taking ownership and I am looking forward to the future with Carlos who is only a sophomore.”

The drive lasted nearly half the quarter and was capped off with a 18-yard run by Caiden Shea to give Nantucket a 20-7 lead with 6:15 left in the third quarter.

But the Vineyard wouldn’t go quietly. They began to march down the field and began to generate more chunk yardage plays on the ground. They were aided by a Nantucket personal foul that extended the drive and brought the Vineyard past midfield to Nantucket’s 44 yard line.

They weren’t able to do much with the opportunity as the Whaler’s defense stiffened yet again and eventually stuffed an option run up the middle on fourth down to regain possession on downs.

The Vineyard stopped Nantucket but still trailed 20-7 entering the final quarter of play. After Nantucket’s defense stepped up yet again, Nantucket was in a position to seal the deal and make it a three score game. They took the field without Bloise, who was taken out of the game due to a hip injury.

Aguilar didn’t seem phased by Bloise’s absence as the offense continued to be productive with Aguilar, receiver Makai Bodden, and running back Jayquan Francis handling the touches. Aguilar capped the drive off with a beautiful throw to Bodden in the back right corner of the end zone that gave Nantucket a 27-7 lead they would hold onto until the clock hit zero.

Perry said he, his fellow coaches, and all the players always love to play in front of the enormous Island Cup crowd.

“It is always great to have people come out and support all of the athletic programs here,” Perry said. “We are fortunate to be the last game (of the day).

Perry said he has begun to see the buy-in from the sophomores and juniors on the team during practices as they help prepare the starters for their weekly games. He believes it is a sign of great things to come for Nantucket’s football program.

The Whalers are now 5-2 this season and will begin tournament play this week. Their opponent will be determined in the next couple of days. Check back in with our Nantucket Current Sports page on Instagram for updates or follow @dcreedACK on Twitter.

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