Bollinger’s first career TD highlights Viera win in playoff opener

Hawks shut out Sickles 39-0 to reach Class 7A semifinals


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Viera High senior Bear Bollinger scored the first touchdown of his career on this 6-yard run during Friday night's Class 7A regional quarterfinal against Sickles. The Hawks won the game 39-0.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

There’s a reason why Bear Bollinger’s Viera High teammates love him so much.

And that was never more evident than what happened during the Hawks’ 39-0 victory over visiting Sickles in the Class 7A regional quarterfinals Friday night.

Bollinger, a linebacker who occasionally comes in on offense to help block, got a chance to carry the ball from the Sickles’ 6-yard line on the first play of the fourth quarter and took it in for his first career touchdown.

“We’ve always had that play in the back of the playbook,” Bollinger said. “I love the O-line and I think it’s better to block for a touchdown than to run for one. That’s just how I am.

“… It means more for the win and that I get to play another week with my brothers.”

With the win, the second-seeded Hawks (8-3) will get the semifinal rematch they’ve been waiting for with No. 3 Plant (9-1), which has knocked Viera out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons – including last year’s dramatic and controversial finish at Hawk Stadium.

Viera will certainly need another big performance from its defense, which limited Sickles to 78 yards of offense Friday night.

Bollinger – who made the tackle on three straight plays by the Gryphons (7-4) to force a three-and-out – was one of a number of defensive players to come up big for the Hawks.

Cooper Davis, Julius Barfield, Jamari Lyons, Jackson Hatfield, Chancellor McGriff, Hunter Lee, Andre Jones, Dan Steen, Kato Holmes, Cortez Reid, Garrett Kaminski, Nate DePlancke, Jeremiah Housey and Quez Menyfield all came up big on that side of the ball for Viera.

Offensively, the Hawks took an 18-0 first half lead thanks to runs by two sophomores – Jalen Housey (10-yard TD) and quarterback Bryce Norton (9-yard TD) – and freshman TJ Johnson (5-yard TD).

But while the Hawks seemed in control of the game at halftime, they weren’t playing as sharp as they would like … certainly not sharp enough to beat Plant.

Viera coach Derek Smith attributed some of the Hawks’ first half sloppiness to that fact that playing postseason football was a new experience for a number of players. Earlier in the week, Smith asked players to stand up if they had started or played in last year’s playoff game against Plant and “not a lot of kids stood up.”

Couple that with the fact that after pulling out a dramatic 49-42 win over Cocoa, Viera had outscored its final four opponents by a combined score of 189-20.

“We had to get the anxiety out,” Smith said. “We had to get the rust off a little bit. When I say rust, there’s a difference between playoff mode and… no disrespect to anybody we’ve played the last four or five weeks, but we haven’t had a challenge in the last four or five weeks.

“When there’s a little adversity, you’ve got to shake that rust off and make sure you do things correctly.”

The Hawks certainly looked better in the second half. Not only the did the defense continue to shut out the Gryphons, but Sean Atkins opened the second half with a 2-yard touchdown run that was followed by a fake PAT throw from kicker Robbie Murtha to the 6-foot-7 Davis for a two-point conversion that made it a 26-0 game.

Norton would hit Atkins on a 64-yard touchdown pass and then Bollinger would get his first career TD to close out the win.

“We started slow, but what matters in the playoffs is how you improve on your mistakes and that’s what we did in the second half,” Viera senior offensive guard Chris Murphy said.

With Murphy, Gavin Lamp, Andrew Hart, Brady Touzet and Colben Maher giving Norton plenty of time to throw most of the night, the Hawks were able to get their offense going as Atkins, Shamaar Mohr, Jordy Emmons, Caleb Osburn, Johnson and Jalen Housey were able to hit the Sickles defense for some big plays.

And now, after a week in which the Hawks may have been a little distracted with the chance of a rematch with Plant looming on the horizon, the Hawks can settle down for what they know is going to be one of – if not the biggest – challenges they’ve faced all season.

“We’re focused now,” Murphy said. “We’ve got this behind us. We’re ready to go now.”

Before the bow gets put on this one, though, let’s go back for a moment to Bollinger’s touchdown.

The senior may not have seemed excited about it, but his teammates certainly were.

“It was so cool,” Murphy said. “We’ve been running that play in practice and we’ve been waiting for the right time to use it. There’s no better feeling than getting big Bear a touchdown. Blocking for touchdowns is cool, scoring touchdowns is better.

“We love Bear. If we can get him a touchdown anytime … he’s a great guy. He deserved it. It was so cool.”

While Bollinger did say getting a chance to score was “really fun” he was also quick to point out that the first thing he did after scoring was to go up to each of his offensive linemen and thank them.

“They’re the ones that make it happen,” he said.

And that’s just the kind of reaction his head coach was expecting.

 “Bear loves being a teammate,” Smith said. “Bear went and bought every offensive and defensive lineman doughnuts this week – on his own – just to show them appreciation. And his exact comment was, ‘A lot of times, you offensive linemen don’t get your names in the paper, don’t get the appreciation.’ But he goes, ‘I want you to know I love being your teammate.’

“That’s what kind of a guy Bear is.”