One of the country’s most distinct and noteworthy football rivalries will be put on hold this year.
The battle of Massachusetts islands, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, will not take place Saturday for only the second time in the rivalry’s history. The Island Cup is normally a point of intense pride for fans and alumni in the communities.
Earlier this month, as the Boston Globe tells it, Martha’s Vineyard reluctantly canceled the game because the program is down to just 14 varsity-level players. Whatever the reason for the low numbers at a program that has five Mass. Super Bowl championships and nine league titles in its past, the chartered ferry between the two picturesque islands will not be running.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Martha’s Vineyard senior quarterback Zachary Moreis told the Globe. “We’re two islands off the coast of Massachusetts, and one day a year we get to compete against each other.”
On Nantucket, head football coach Brian Ryder has been left scratching his head about the situation.
“They were crushed,” he told the Globe. “One of my captains spoke up and said, ‘You’re trying to tell me that I’ve been playing football since second grade and I can’t play in the Island Cup in my senior year?’
“I’m not exactly 100 percent sure why this happened,” he added. “We could have worked something out.”
The rivalry dates to 1953, with Nantucket holding a 36-30-3 lead.
First-year Martha’s Vineyard coach Ryan Kent told the Globe that he was left with no choice. At the start of the season, his team had close to 40 players, but that injuries, suspensions and players quitting had whittled away at the roster. The Vineyard team would have entered Saturday’s game 2-7, with one of the teams coming by forfeit when another team could only field 11 players.
“Way beyond winning and losing is my players’ safety,” said Kent. “You want me to put my players in jeopardy and roll the dice? That’s not acceptable.”
Ryder countered that Nantucket also is limited with only 23 varsity players, eight of whom play both offense and defense.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Ryder, who openly questioned to the Globe whether Nantucket was being punished for canceling the game in 2009.
Vineyard officials denied to the Globe that the move was retaliatory.
To the Boston Herald, Ryder articulated his and his team’s disappointment even more.
“I totally understand the reasoning,” Ryder told Herald columnist Ron Borges. “The only frustrating thing is they were able to play New Bedford Voke two weeks ago. When we looked at the video they had 24 dressed and eight senior starters. If a lot of them were freshmen that could have very easily been discussed. We could have made it happen and still been respectful of their situation.
“The sad thing for me is if we were a weak team (like struggling Voke), they wouldn’t have forfeited the game. We took our beatings against them many times. I know one year we only had 16 players and lost to them, 48-6.
“The biggest heartbreak for me was, when I told our kids there’d be no game, one of my seniors said, ‘We’re not going to have the Island Cup my senior year?’ . . . This was a chance for us to win the Cup at home for the first time in years. I know he’s got a challenging job keeping their program going with the numbers down, but this is kind of a sad way to end our season.”