Hawks embrace underdog status vs. St. Thomas Aquinas in state title game


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The Viera Hawks may not be the favorites to win tonight's Class 7A state title game, but they know they'll have the support of their loyal fans who are expected to help fill up Orlando's Citrus Bowl.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

Viera High’s chances of winning the Class 7A state football championship tonight are …

Zero.

Well, at least that’s what … geez, are we really going to quote from a Taylor Swift song? … people say.

The Hawks (10-4) will take on the No. 1 ranked St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders (12-1) at 7:07 p.m. at the Orlando Citrus Bowl.

The Raiders will be playing for their ninth state championship. The Hawks, well, before this season started they were 0-1 in the postseason and hadn’t even scored a point.

So there’s no way Viera can win, right?

Well, that’s what people said when the Hawks played six-time state champ Lakeland in the regional finals. It’s what they said when they went up to Lake City to play No. 3 Columbia in the state semifinals, too.

And the Hawks are still standing.

Being the underdog does have its privileges.

“We tell the guys we’re probably the only group around here that thinks we have a chance,” Viera coach Kevin Mays said. “These guys, because of the games we’ve played, I don’t think they care what everybody else thinks. They’re going to go out and play our game, and if it’s good enough, it’s good enough.”

Make no mistake. St. Thomas Aquinas is an excellent team with, as Mays put it, Division I caliber players across the board, including junior quarterback Jake Allen, who has committed to Florida.

The Hawks believe the Raiders are a combination of their last two opponents. They’re big up front and can pound the ball like Lakeland did, but like Columbia, they have excellent speed on the outside and will challenge the strength of Viera’s defense – the secondary.

Mays may not know what the outcome of tonight’s game will be, but he does know this: His players believe in each other.

“The biggest strength that these guys play with is that they play for the guy next to them,” Mays said. “They know how hard that guy’s worked, and they’ve worked just as hard for that guy. They’re going to play hard for each other. Our guys are going to play hard no matter what happens.”

Senior safety/linebacker Trevor Merritt said the team has embraced being the underdog this season.

After going 6-4 in the regular season and winning a second straight district title, the Hawks easily defeated Harmony and Martin County in the first two rounds of the playoffs, setting up the regional final with Lakeland.

A 24-14 win in that one was rewarded a trip to Lake City for a game against high-powered Columbia, but it was the Hawks who came out on top 42-23.

“I love it because we go into games and everybody’s like, ‘You have to do this to win,’” Merritt said of playing the underdog role. “We look at it as, OK, if you think they’re that much better than us, we have no pressure on us. They have to come in and dominate us.

“We just go out and play football like we know how. There’s really no pressure on us. We just go play. We love it. And after we win, everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, I knew you could do it.’”

Tonight’s game will definitely not be easy. With what’s at stake, it shouldn’t be.

But as they’ve shown all season, don’t count the Hawks out just yet.

“I feel like everyone’s just sleeping on us,” Viera defensive end Riley Morris said after the win over Columbia. “They didn’t know what we could bring to the table. Now they’re finding out, and now we’re going to states.”

Note: Carl Kotala will be posting updates from tonight’s game on his Twitter account: @CKotala