HARWICH – The feeling was different long before kickoff. Between the standing-room-only crowd and the aura of playing under the lights on a Friday night, the atmosphere at Monomoy Regional High School was suitable for a big-time performance.
And that’s exactly what the Sharks football team delivered.
Playing in front of a capacity crowd for the first time since 2019, Monomoy made the most of the moment, running past crosstown rival Cape Tech to open its season with a 22-8 victory on Friday night.
“I can’t even explain how proud I am of these guys,” said Monomoy coach Larry Souza. “You can see the cohesiveness of the team and the way they’ve come together.”
The Sharks had to overcome plenty of adversity in order to leave with the win. They lost their starting quarterback — sophomore Jake Vagenas, a Harwich native — to injury in the second quarter. At times their starting running back, senior Shaw Schuyler, another Harwich native, needed to leave the field to catch his wind.
Regardless of the scenario, Monomoy answered the bell, and that’s what Souza was most proud of.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys out here and every guy – the quarterback goes down, we bring in the second quarterback, our running back gets a little winded and I bring in the second and third running backs – every guy just stepped up,” said Souza.
It helped that Monomoy was simply ready to go. After struggling to hit their stride during an abbreviated schedule during March and April in what was dubbed a “Fall II” football season across the state, the Sharks started fast against the visiting Crusaders and never looked back.
Right out of the gates, Schuyler ran for a seven-yard gain on the first play of the game. He dashed for 22 yards on the second play, then a six-yard gain on the third. He ran for no gain on second down, setting Monomoy up with a third-and-four situation at Cape Tech’s 24-yard line.
Schuyler escaped his spot in the backfield and made a break down the field, eventually finding his way to the end zone. Vagenas lobbed a pass in his direction, and the running back made an acrobatic circus-like catch that ended with him flat on his back in the end zone while he held the ball above his chest to prove he caught it.
“Usually a catch like that, I would never make it,” Schuyler said of giving the team a 6-0 lead on its opening drive. “I’m terrible at catching, but something just snapped and I just grabbed it out of the air. And then it was like, ‘All right, I’m in the end zone.’”
It all came together on the opening possession, he said. Although the team’s two-point conversion attempt failed after Schuyler’s touchdown grab, those first few minutes set the tone for the remainder of the game.
“I was ready to go,” said Schuyler, who added a seven-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and ultimately finished with 148 rushing yards on 20 carries. “My legs are cramping right now, but at the beginning of the game, I didn’t feel anything. I was ready to go.”
When Schuyler did have to leave the field, Monomoy’s reserves were ready. Freshman Dillon Chapman broke loose for a 21-yard score on his first run from scrimmage, giving the Sharks a 14-0 lead in the second quarter following a successful two-point play that saw Vagenas pass to senior Michael Rocco for the conversion.
Vagenas left the game before halftime after sustaining a shoulder injury to his non-throwing (left) shoulder. It came on a roll out in which the quarterback was running to his right before he fell to the ground hard. Freshman Jedidiah Zimmerman played well in relief – he ran for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter after Schuyler’s second touchdown.
After the game, Vagenas said he felt he escaped a close call before noting he should be able to return to the lineup for Saturday’s crossover matchup against the Bristol-Plymouth junior varsity team at 10 a.m. at MRHS.
“I’m going to ice it and rest it and I’ll be back for practice Monday,” he said. “It’s not my throwing arm, so we’re all good.”
Even as he navigated the sidelines with ice on his shoulder, Vagenas was pleased with the outcome of the game.
“That was a team win. That was gorgeous,” said the quarterback. “I’ve never seen [the offense] like that before. The offensive line was pumping.”
The Sharks even had a few breakout performances in their season-opening win. Rocco, another Harwich resident, was one of the brightest stars – he intercepted two passes on defense in addition to his production on the offensive side of the ball.
“I’ve been trying to get him to play since eighth grade, he finally comes out and look at what he does,” Souza said of Rocco, who was making his high school football debut.
“I regret not playing, but I’m happy to be back,” said Rocco. “It really feels good. I’m really proud of the team, honestly. We played really good together and we’re just a family.”
Cape Tech got on the scoreboard in the final minutes once its junior signal-caller, Dylan Campeau, a Harwich resident, tossed a 59-yard touchdown to junior Ronald Timm, a wide receiver from Barnstable. Campeau ran for the ensuing two-point conversion, but that was the Crusaders’ only score of the night.
“We’ve got so many young guys, so the first time you see it live, it can be tough,” said Cape Tech coach Chris Leonard. “It’s one thing to see it in practice, but it’s another to see your first varsity game live. The kids just have to adjust — we’ll get them coached up and get them moving along.”
As happy as Souza was to leave with a victory, the coach said he was much more pleased with the way his Monomoy squad played.
“The thing I’m most proud of? When we lose games, we don’t lose physical games, we lose games because of mental mistakes,” said Souza. “We made very few mental mistakes today. The score means nothing to me. What’s really big is we controlled the tempo of the game, we controlled the time and the ball. It really was hard work.”
Email Brad Joyal at email@example.com. Twitter: @BradJoyal