Hawks top Lakeland 24-14 to reach Final Four


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Viera High quarterback Hayden Kingston (left) and Jamyson Boyd celebrate after the Hawks defeated Lakeland 24-14 to reach the Class 7A Final Four.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

Just before Viera High’s two previous playoff games, head football coach Kevin Mays and his staff walked into a loud, boisterous locker room.

But when Mays walked into the Hawks’ inner sanctum prior to Friday night’s Class 7A regional final against visiting Lakeland, it was eerily quiet.

And that scared him a little.

“When they act a little different, you get concerned,” Mays said. “But I think they were focused. I think the first two games, they knew if we played good, we would take care of business.

“This one, they had to play great to do it, and … they played great.”

Led by Alex Cabrera’s three touchdowns, a huge fourth quarter scramble by quarterback Hayden Kingston and some big-time defense, the Hawks outlasted a big, physical Lakeland Dreadnaughts team for a 24-14 victory.

That puts Viera into the state’s Final Four.

The Hawks (9-4) have a date with Columbia (12-1) in the Class 7A semifinals next Friday in Lake City at 7:30 p.m. Columbia was ranked third in the state in the Associated Press final regular-season rankings.

Lakeland (9-3) was No. 8 in that poll. Viera didn’t even receive a vote.

Well, so much for that.

The Dreadnaughts were big, physical and very well-coached. They were exactly the kind of team Mays and his staff prepared for with a tough schedule that included opponents like Palm Bay, Cocoa and, of course, Allen, Texas.

As they have done since coming back from their bye week, the Hawks started off fast.

Kingston’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Cabrera put the Hawks up 7-0. Viera’s defense would then force fumbles on successive Lakeland drives. Cabrera’s 16-yard run put the Hawks up 14-0 in the first quarter.

But back came Lakeland. The Dreadnaughts got a 4-yard touchdown run from AJ Davis and, after Viera jumped offside on the PAT, went for the two-point conversion and got it.

The Dreadnaughts also did something else, switching to man-to-man coverage and pressing Viera’s receivers to take away the short passing game.

Viera’s offense struggled.

And when Lakeland got the ball to start the second half and went on a 95-yard touchdown drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock, it looked like Viera might be in trouble as the Dreadnaughts were an extra-point away from taking the lead.

Only the PAT was blocked. The score was merely tied at 14-14 and after a pair of strong runs by Brennen Deplancke, Kingston hit Cabrera on a bubble screen and the speedy wide receiver did the rest, racing 50 yards for the go-ahead score.

Cabrera made the play sound simple.

“When you get two great blocks and you read it right … end zone,” he said.

Simple or not, it gave the Hawks the lead and a major boost of energy and the defense fed off it, stopping Lakeland on consecutive drives.

Linebackers Brandon Mays and Zack Blanch were in on a number of stops and the Hawks got solid play from others defenders like Marco Foreman, Riley Morris, Justin Harrison, Miguel Rodriguez, Matt Martorelli, Jamyson Boyd, Evan Cruz, Malek Folston, Trevor Merritt and Will Champion.

“I told the kids all week, this team resembled Palm Bay,” Viera assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Derek Smith said. “And in the Palm Bay game, we made crucial mistakes at the line of scrimmage and gave up the big play with play action.

“We harped all week, don’t give up the big play on play action, and do your job at the line of scrimmage. Playing Palm Bay, and then playing teams like Cocoa and Allen, Texas – which is monstrous up front – prepared us for a game like this. Because the one thing that is beautiful about these young men at this school is they do not repeat mistakes.”

With Viera’s defense stepping up and Cabrera’s touchdown already in the books, the Hawks embarked on another drive, only this time going to the running game instead of the pass. Lakeland helped out with a couple of defensive offside penalties, but the big play actually came after a holding call on Viera that put the Hawks in a second-and-15.

Kingston dropped back and, not seeing anyone open, took off for a 20-yard run to the Lakeland 35-yard line. It eventually set up a 29-yard field goal by Trey Schaneville that sealed the game.

“That run Hayden made at the end was beautiful,” Smith said. “I’m going to tell you, (Kevin and I) have been coaching a long time. The run he makes at the end, a lot of quarterbacks panic, they trip and they fall or they throw a stupid ball in that situation.

“That first down he made at the end is as good as any quarterback we’ve been around – coached against, or coached for.”

Being the kind of leader he is, Kingston heaped his praise on the shoulders of others, especially the guys who tried to keep him upright all night.

“Alex’s touchdown run was incredible,” he said. “That was awesome. Our last two drives, our offensive line really took a step tonight. They manned up and really created holes for Brennen and Jay (Boyd) to get going. Our offensive line carried us those last two drives. Shout out to them. That was awesome.”

So is being in the Final Four.

It’s one of the big aspirations the Hawks set for themselves all season, and while it’s easy to set your goals high, it’s quite another to put in the kind of work it takes to make it happen.

“Final Four,” Kingston said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team, this school and this town. Such a great crowd tonight. Kudos to everyone who came out. Every time they jumped offside, that wasn’t me. That was our crowd being really loud.”

The Hawks will start preparing for Columbia on Monday. But Friday night was to be savored, now and for years to come.

“This isn’t going to be lost on us for a while,” Kingston said. “This is something to be really proud of. This town should be really proud of what happened here tonight.”