Viera beats Vero Beach on Steen’s TD catch with four seconds left


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Viera's Dan Steen (with ball) is about to be congratulated by teammates Bear Bollinger (left) and Cooper Davis after catching the game-winning touchdown pass with four seconds remaining in Friday night's Kickoff Classic at Vero Beach.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

VERO BEACH – Dan Steen ran a drag route toward the corner of the end zone and caught the eye of Viera High quarterback Bryce Norton, who was rolling that way.

Norton pointed at Steen, who put his hands down low to indicate where he wanted the ball and ...

The celebration was on.

Norton’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Steen with four seconds remaining gave the Hawks a 35-28 victory over host Vero Beach in a highly entertaining Kickoff Classic game at the Citrus Bowl.

“I went to the corner and Bryce looked at me. I said, ‘throw it low’ and he threw it and I caught it and that was the end of it,” said Steen.

A junior who made his first varsity start at linebacker, Steen doesn’t always see a lot of time on offense – especially when Viera tries to spread teams out as the Hawks are wont to do.

But with Viera switching to a tight formation down the stretch of the close game, Steen made the most of his time at fullback, catching a 10-yard pass to put Viera up 28-21 with two minutes to play, and then the game winner.

He was mobbed by teammates both times.

“It’s ecstatic,” Steen said. “This is my first varsity starting game, so I’m hyped. It’s amazing.”

While Steen was certainly one of the heroes of the night for Viera, he was hardly the only one.

Norton, a sophomore making his first varsity start, had his ups and downs on the night. But the ups were huge – touchdown runs of 6 and 31 yards in the first half and the two touchdown passes to Steen in the final few minutes.

Linebacker Bear Bollinger, meanwhile, had an interception in the first quarter and made perhaps the play of the game in the second, forcing a Vero Beach fumble at the goal line and returning it 64 yards to the Indians’ 36 to help set up Norton’s second touchdown run.

Freshman defensive lineman Jamari Lyons also had a big play, catching a tipped pass and returning it 8 yards for a touchdown. And linebacker Hunter Lee, in his Viera debut, was all over the field, recovering a fumble and making a big hit on a quarterback sack.

“Anytime you play Vero Beach, you’ve got to understand as a coaching staff and as a football team that Vero Beach is well-coached, very disciplined and they play hard,” Hawks coach Derek Smith said. “Especially in this house. This is a playoff atmosphere.

“So when we came in here, we knew it wasn’t going to be a pushover team. We knew it was going to come down to the end, just like last year.”

Viera lost last year’s Kickoff Classic against the Indians 42-30 thanks in large part to seven turnovers.

The Hawks did turn the ball over once Friday night, but they did a much better job of holding onto the ball and not forcing the issue against a fast, aggressive Vero Beach defense.

That said, the Hawks struggled to move the ball for much of the first half.

Vero Beach opened the game with a 44-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead and it stayed that way until midway through the second quarter when Norton hit Shamaar Mohr with a 36-yard pass to the Indians’ 6-yard line.

Norton followed that up with his 6-yard touchdown run and the game was tied.

However, just before the first half, Vero Beach put together a drive that had the Indians with a first-and-goal at the Viera 1 just before halftime.

Vero tried to run it in for the touchdown, but Lee tripped up the ballcarrier and Bollinger put his helmet right on the ball to knock it out, then scooped it up and ran downfield before a speedier Indians player caught up to him at the 36-yard line.

“The D-line penetrated, the linebackers did great and I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time,” Bollinger said of his game-changing play. “I was lucky.”

Two plays later, Norton rolled to his right, evaded a couple of tackles and cut back all the way to his left on the way to a 31-yard touchdown that put the Hawks up 14-7 at the half.

Talk about a swing of momentum.

“That’s exactly what he does in practice,” Bollinger said of Norton. “Every time we think we’re going to get him … he just makes a play. He’s a playmaker. It (stinks) to play against him.”

After Vero scored to make it 14-13 (the PAT was wide right), the Hawks would increase their lead when Lyons scored his touchdown in the third quarter.

That was just the appetizer for an entertaining final frame as the teams combined for four touchdowns in the final 8:40 – including three in the final two minutes.

It was an especially big night for Norton, who led his team to two scores down the stretch and seemed to grow in confidence and in execution down the stretch.

“That’s what also makes it exciting to know is that he’s got a long way to keep growing,” Smith said. “And once he starts to grow, he’s going to be one heck of a football player. He’s still one heck (of a football player), but the sky’s the limit for him.”

While the offense showed signs of improvement, Viera’s defense pretty much lived up to its reputation as one of the area’s best. The Hawks gave up two long touchdown passes to Vero Beach, but also came up with a number of big plays – especially the two turnovers by Bollinger.

“Defense is literally about 11 men trusting each other and doing their job and not trying to do somebody else’s job,” Smith said. “That’s how I’ve been my entire career, teaching 11 men to do their job on the football field.”

Those words certainly stuck with Bollinger, who described his first quarter interception this way:

“I was told play underneath Cortez (Reid), do your job and that’s what I did. Coach Smith said it was going right there, and that’s where it was.”

For his efforts, Bollinger was the first recipient of the Hawks’ new Defensive Player of the Game championship belt (Norton took the offensive player award).

But after trying unsuccessfully several times to put the belt around his waist, he had it draped over his shoulder.

“I’m kind of a skinnier guy,” a smiling Bollinger said. “This is meant for some of the D-linemen, but I’ll make it work.”

And after getting a win over a Vero Beach team that went 11-1 last season and is always in the hunt for a deep playoff run, the Hawks certainly have some momentum going as they get ready for next week’s season opener against Rockledge at McLarty Stadium.

“It was just an overall team victory,” Bollinger said. “Offense stuck it out. Defense stuck it out. We overcame a little adversity and stuck to the game plan. We’ve got the best coaches in Brevard County. They stuck with us. We stuck with them.

“We love them. They love us. We’re a great team.”