HARWICH – Even after suffering a lopsided 42-0 defeat Monday, there were reasons for the Monomoy Regional High School football team to be optimistic.
For starters, the team was shorthanded and only had a couple days of practice after COVID-19 close contacts forced the team to pause its preseason preparations for two weeks. The rust and lack of conditioning were evident in the season's opener against the Vineyarders, but there were also bright spots of encouragement.
The most notable? The Sharks didn’t quit.
“Our guys had two days of practice and they fought their tails off,” Monomoy coach Larry Souza said. “They didn’t give up. They worked really, really hard. (Martha’s Vineyard) is a hard-nosed football team — these guys have some running backs the size of our linemen.”
Junior running back Ty Mathew led the way for Martha’s Vineyard (1-1) with 90 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns as he scored from one and 49 yards out. Another junior, Gabe Brito, broke loose for an 80-yard touchdown scamper. The Vineyarders’ passing game also got it done, as senior quarterback Zach Smith connected with classmate Braden Sayles for an eight-yard touchdown through the air.
The visitors’ defense also provided points, as junior Von-Trai Porter returned a fumble 32 yards for a touchdown during the second quarter, helping Martha’s Vineyard build a 36-0 advantage by halftime.
There were self-inflicted miscues caused by the Sharks (0-1). They had some sloppy mental errors, including offsides penalties and missed assignments, though those mistakes are teachable. That’s why Martha’s Vineyard coach Don Herman acknowledged he expects to see a much better Monomoy team when the Cape and Islands League Lighthouse Division rivals meet again on the Vineyard on April 10.
“We play them in three weeks and I’m sure it’ll be a different kind of ballgame,” Herman said. “Their backs were really up against the wall. They only had basically three practices in two weeks because of the COVID situation and they were missing a bunch of kids today. We know — and they know — they’re a better football team than this.”
Among the bright spots for the Sharks was the play of senior co-captain Justin Sneed, a Harwich resident, who anchored both the offensive and defensive lines. Sneed was especially dominant on the defensive side of the ball, as he penetrated into the backfield and wreaked havoc by recording tackles for losses throughout the game.
“It’s my favorite thing. I love it,” Sneed said of getting into the backfield. “It’s fun to get through the hole and it’s fun to try to get the guy with the ball and get him down.”
Another encouraging sign for Monomoy was the play of freshman quarterback Jake Vagenas, who made his varsity debut under center. The rookie signal-caller did throw a couple interceptions, but he also displayed an ability to find receivers down the field, as he did on a 51-yard toss he threw to senior Graham Papenfuhs late in the second quarter.
Vagenas also proved he’s tough as nails – the freshman kept returning to the huddle after the Vineyarders defenders crunched him in the pocket.
“Great kid and he’s willing to give it all for the team,” Souza said of Vagenas, a Harwich resident. “He’s a ninth-grader. People underestimate that. This is a ninth-grader who maybe played four or five plays on varsity last year. (He) stepped up, knows the playbook, recognizes what’s going on and does his job and he’s tough.”
“He has potential,” said Papenfuhs, a Chatham resident, about Vagenas. “For only being a freshman, he’s probably one of the better quarterbacks we’ve seen.”
Souza noted the team will focus on conditioning during its next few practices as it turns its attention to a Week 2 matchup at St. John Paul II at noon Saturday. After only having two days of practice following the return from the shutdown, Sneed said the players are looking forward to more preparation.
“We've got four days of practice until St. John Paul II, and they’re a really good team,” the senior said. “The way we’re looking at it is we’re going to condition as much as we can the first couple days and get ourselves in shape and honed and ready.”
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org