On the bus ride home after yet another deflating loss in Week 3, the Nantucket football captains knew something had to change.
They weren’t just losing, they were getting blown out, and they hated the miserable feeling that accompanied each game. With a 42-0 loss to Rockland, a 38-8 loss to Mashpee, and a 48-7 loss to Cohasset behind them, a playoff berth — never mind a deep postseason run — seemed highly unlikely.
Injuries played a part, but senior captain and tight end/defensive end Joel MacVicar also believes the team’s collective psyche wasn’t where it had to be. They felt as though the community doubted them, and frankly, they understood why, but the Whalers decided it was time to shift momentum in their favor.
In a twist that few outside their bubble saw coming, they haven’t lost since, and suddenly that 0-3 start is merely a distant memory.
“They thought the island was dying,” MacVicar said. “It’s kind of cool to see us rejuvenate the program. We’ve been able to find this spark and ride the wave.”
The invigorated Whalers (6-3) have now ripped off six straight wins, earning a spot in Friday’s Division 7 South final at second-seeded Abington (7-2) . Nantucket is used to being the underdog, and as the No. 5 seed the Whalers know not many people expect them to win.
That’s exactly the way they like it, and they’re eager to move one major step closer to their first Super Bowl title since 2011.
“I feel like the start of the season was some sort of force testing us,” MacVicar said. “We’ve got a swagger going this year that I haven’t seen in past years.”
That swagger certainly didn’t exist early in the season, with the Whalers being outscored, 128-15, in the three losses.
But Nantucket was also without senior captains Darian Duarte , Devonte Usher , and Torane Burton.
Second-year coach Joe Perry said all three are natural leaders, noting that their energy carries over to the rest of the team. Anchored by a stout offensive line, the Whalers have put up 227 points in their last six games (37.8 per game).
The defense has been just as dominant — yielding just 4.7 points per game in the six-game run which included victories over foes that Nantucket, when healthy, should beat: Brighton (48-8), Monomoy (41-0), and Sandwich (26-0).
But the Whalers also walloped Mashpee, 42-0, and then shut out top-seeded Cohasset, 23-0, on Saturday.
“The stars aligned for us,” Perry said. “We knew that if we kept grinding it out, we’d see Mashpee again. If we kept grinding it out, we’d see Cohasset again. For the senior leaders on the team, that alignment came.”
Before each of those games, the Whalers rallied around the slogan “They don’t know!”
Afterward, in celebrating each win, they screamed “Now you know!”
MacVicar said they were mentally prepared for two close games, but the blowout wins were certainly a favorable alternative.
“It’s so amazing, the revenge tour side of things,” MacVicar said. “These teams are underestimating us, for sure. They’re game-planning, and they think they’re ready for us, but there’s no way to prepare for our speed. It just gets better and better. I’m not going to lie.”
Nantucket was not the only ‘underdog’ to advance to a sectional final.
In Division 2 North, defending state champion North Andover outlasted top-seeded Reading, 21-18, prompting coach John Dubzinski to praise his defense for doing a tremendous job against a potent offense.
He acknowledged throwing the ball was difficult — Reading was strong in the secondary and applied great pressure up front — but Dubzinski was proud of his team for making a return trip to the sectional final.
“It was a great team win over a very good, well-coached football team,” Dubzinski said.
In other semifinals, fourth-seeded Winchester stopped top seed Danvers, 42-27, in Division 3 North. No. 4 seed Swampscott and No. 7 seed Amesbury will meet in the Division 5 North final after the Big Blue knocked off top-seeded Pentucket, 14-13, and the Indians found a way against third-seeded Lynnfield, 30-23.
Defending Division 6 champion Stoneham cruised past top seed Shawsheen, 37-7, and will visit third seed Bishop Fenwick in the North final. In the South, its fourth seed Old Rochester at third seed Ashland.
■ As Pingree football coach Mike Flynn picked up the phone Sunday morning, he quickly apologized for having a hoarse voice.
“When there’s 100 points on the board, there’s a lot of yelling,” said the second-year coach.
In the end, all the hollering seemingly worked.
His Highlanders (7-1) outlasted previously unbeaten Dexter Southfield (7-1) in an epic 50-43 Evergreen League shootout in South Hamilton. Pingree senior Colton Fahey finished 18-for-22 passing for 363 yards and a whopping seven touchdowns — including a go-ahead, 9-yard toss to Billy Stevens with five seconds remaining.
Flynn said Fahey was in a zone and making the right decision on every play, praising the quarterback for his poise and precision. He also singled out Tim Dowd (6 catches, 196 yards, 4 TDs). Flynn has tremendous respect for Dexter’s offense, and he had a hunch his team would need to score early and often to keep pace.
“The plan going in was that we needed 38 to 42 points to win,” Flynn said. “It took 50.”
Pingree, which won the Evergreen League for the second consecutive season, will face host Proctor Academy (7-1) in the Ken Hollingsworth Bowl on Saturday (1 p.m.) in Andover, N.H.
The schedule for this week’s NEPSCAC Bowls . . .
Friday, Nov. 15
Dave Coratti Bowl — St. Paul’s School (8-0) vs. Dexter-Southfield (7-1) at Gillette Stadium, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 16
Kevin Driscoll Bowl — Suffield Academy (8-0) at Avon Old Farms (8-0), 1 p.m.
Bill Glennon Bowl — Deerfield Academy (7-2) at Milton Academy (8-0), 1 p.m.
Todd Marble Bowl — Brunswick School (7-2) vs. Governor’s Academy (7-1), TBA.
Ken Hollingsworth Bowl — Pingree School (7-1) at Proctor Academy (7-1), Andover, N.H., 1 p.m.
Mark Conroy Bowl — Middlesex School (5-2-1) at Canterbury School (7-1), New Milford, Conn., 1 p.m.
■ Rockland senior Dante Vasquez broke the school’s career rushing record with his 107-yard performance in the Bulldogs’ 33-16 Division 6 South semifinal loss to Ashland.
Vasquez entered the game 87 yards shy of Tyrone Jefferson (3,468 yards), a 1996 graduate and former teammate of Rockland head coach Nick Liquori.
“Old school Rockland football,” Liquori said. “He reminds me of Tyrone a lot. They both looked to deliver hits rather than avoid them.”
When Liquori was hired in 2017, he felt Vasquez was a perfect fit for the quarterback run-happy offense he wanted to feature. But the sophomore was apprehensive to take on a leadership role on a senior-laden team.
“He started to mature halfway through that year,” Liquori said. “Back then, we would only have 10-15 kids in the weight room every offseason but this year we had 30 kids in the weight room because of him and other seniors.”
■ Keefe Tech (Framingham) and KIPP Academy (Lynn) will meet for the second time this season in Friday night’s Division 8 North final. KIPP won the first meeting, 40-6, on Oct. 19. Two weeks ago, Keefe picked up the program’s first postseason win, beating Boston English/New Mission, 21-20. On Friday, Keefe ousted Lynn Tech, 29-8. The Broncos are in their second season without their co-op partner Marian, which closed its doors in May, 2018.
“The kids have really not just bought in, but they’ve really come together, they enjoy being with each other,” Keefe coach Harry LeSage said. “They’re really playing together as a team, really representing what the Keefe Tech Broncos are all about. That’s the biggest difference from years past. When we came just as Keefe Tech, the Keefe Tech parents got even more involved, and it became more of a community. We had the first winning season last season for the first time in 15 years.”
LeSage and KIPP coach James Rabbitt were friends and football teammates at Framingham State.