Hawks start slow, finish strong in 21-16 win over West Orange in spring game


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Viera's Karsten Poole (right) blocks a West Orange defender to give teammate Jeremiah Housey a chance to turn the corner during Friday night's spring football game in Winter Garden. Viera won the game 21-16.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

WINTER GARDEN – The Viera Hawks spring football game had a little bit of everything.

A slow start, which no one was happy about.

An injury to starting quarterback Bryce Norton, which ended his night a little prematurely.

But mostly there were a lot of strong performances all across the board. And that’s why the Hawks were able to leave West Orange High School Friday night feeling pretty good about themselves after a 21-16 victory over the Warriors.

Viera coach Derek Smith wasn’t pleased with the way the Hawks started the game, particularly on offense, but liked the way his team was able to bounce back in the final three quarters.

“It just shows if we continue to work hard as a team, we’ve got a complete team,” Viera coach Derek Smith said. “We’ve got multiple guys. We’ve got guys on offense who can come over and play defense. We’ve got some guys on defense who can play offense.

“We’re not a one man show. If somebody has slowed down, we’ve got other guys who can pick up the pace.”

That was pretty evident Friday night as newcomer Davis Mallinger had a strong showing on both sides of the ball, giving just a glimpse of what kind of impact he can provide for Viera come the fall. The rising junior scored a pair of touchdowns and delivered some nice hits on defense.

Dan Steen also had a nice game, starting at middle linebacker and also scoring on a 1-yard run.

Among the other standouts for Viera Friday night were Viera’s defensive line that included Cooper Davis, Jamari Lyons, Jackson Hatfield, Tyler Cooley and defensive end Julius Barfield, who had a couple of sacks. Rising junior cornerback Bryce Reynolds had an interception and rising sophomore backup quarterback CJ Simms helped Viera convert two scoring drives.

“We got off to a slow start, but we ended up pulling it together,” Steen said. “It wasn’t just one person. It wasn’t just Davis scoring, or me scoring. It was the whole team. We all did well. We all came together.

“CJ is really good. He stepped up as a young quarterback when our quarterback got hurt and we just pulled it together. There are a few things we need to work on as a team, but as a team, we did really well.”

Viera’s slow start included a fumble on its first drive, giving up a safety  and then a touchdown in the first quarter as West Orange jumped out to a 9-0 lead.

The Hawks finally appeared to be putting together in the second quarter, getting the touchdown from Steen, and were driving again on the West Orange defense when Norton took off running and was tackled hard on the turf. He immediately got up and walked toward the Viera sideline.

“He got a little banged up, and we’re not going to take the chance of hurting that young man,” Smith said. “He was pulled out just to make sure he stayed safe. Our young quarterback did a great job.”

Mallinger finished off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run to put Viera ahead 14-9, then caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Simms to make it 21-9 at the half.

The starters from both teams played three quarters. West Orange scored late in the fourth to make it a 21-16 final.

“We started the game slow, but as the drives went on, and as the quarters went on, we kept playing as a family,” Mallinger said. “We got it together.”

With the win, the Hawks can head off into the summer feeling pretty good about themselves as they get ready to return for their first day of practice on July 29.

“(After) losing a bunch of seniors from last year and coming in as a young team, with new players, it feels amazing to get a win,” Steen said. “We’re out here trying our best, trying our hardest to get the win because we want to make it to states.

“That’s what matters.”