Hawks self-destruct in Class 7A regional semifinal playoff loss to Plant


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Viera's Sean Atkins scores on a 2-yard touchdown run during Friday night's Class 7A regional semifinal against Plant. Atkins, who would also catch a 30-yard touchdown pass, finished his career as the Hawks' all-time leader in touchdowns with 48. Plant won the game 39-18.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

It was the game they couldn’t wait for.

It was the opponent they all wanted.

And despite a few missed opportunities, the first half belonged to them.

But in the end, it was the Viera Hawks who found themselves in disbelief, realizing that the high school careers of some, and the season for all … had come to an end.

Leading Plant 18-10 at halftime in the Class 7A regional semifinals, the Viera Hawks saw it all slip away in a gut-wrenching wave of self-destruction that included four second half turnovers as the Panthers rallied for a 39-18 victory.

“We’ve always talked about Plant’s a second half team and if we’re going to beat them, we’ve got to beat them in the second half,” Viera senior offensive guard Chris Murphy said.

“We came out flat, we dug ourselves a hole and … stupid penalties. The ball didn’t bounce our way tonight.”

It’s the third straight year that Viera (8-4) had its season end with a loss to Plant, and the second consecutive game where the Hawks had the lead in the second half only to see the Panthers rally for the win.

Last year’s game featured the infamous penalty on Viera’s announcing booth for playing the “gong” sound effect just before a Plant third-down play despite previous warnings against doing so. While that penalty alone absolutely did not cost the Hawks their season, it did help the Panthers extend a drive that ended with a game-winning touchdown with 8.8 seconds left.

This time, there was no such drama.

A bad snap on Viera’s first drive set Plant up for a 27-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

The Hawks would answer, forcing three turnovers in the second half including an interception by Julius Barfield and a fumble recovery by Bear Bollinger.

That led to three Viera touchdowns – a 3-yard run by Bollinger, a 30-yard pass from quarterback Bryce Norton to Sean Atkins, and a 2-yard run by Atkins.

However, for the second straight week, the Hawks had trouble kicking the extra point. They missed on two kicks and one 2-point conversion try.

Viera’s defense, meanwhile, did a good job of containing Plant’s offense in that first half with one big exception – a 60-yard touchdown run by talented Panthers running back Walter Wilbon III.

Still, as the teams broke for the half, it was Viera that had the 18-10 lead and a chance to put some real pressure on Plant early in the third quarter.

That opportunity came when the defense forced a three-and-out and the offense got a 30-yard run by Norton to help put the Hawks inside the Plant 30-yard line.

Instead of getting points, the Hawks found themselves facing a fourth-and-4 at the Plant 27. Not only did Viera not convert, but something went awry causing the snap to bounce back to the 47-yard line, where the Panthers took over on downs.

And like good teams do, Plant took advantage of the field position to score a touchdown and get the game-tying 2-point conversion.

That’s when it all fell apart.

Another bad snap led to a Viera fumble that was recovered at the Hawks’ 12-yard line and another Plant touchdown that gave the Panthers the lead.

Viera appeared to tie the game on the ensuing kickoff only to have Atkins’ touchdown return nullified by a block-in-the-back penalty.

Three straight turnovers in the fourth quarter spelled the end for Viera as Plant would score twice more to put the game out of reach.

It was the final high school football game for seniors Atkins, Murphy, Bollinger, Gavin Lamp, Shamaar Mohr, Garrett Kaminski, Hunter Lee, Cortez Reid, Andre Jones, Chancellor McGriff, Quez Menyfield, Robbie Murtha, Devon Ampa, Jared Beck, Christian Nikollaj, Schuyler Reeves, Nick Artura, Nathan Stover and Zac Dowgiallo.

Another senior, Jordy Emmons, saw his season come to an end a week earlier when he tore his ACL late in Viera’s regional quarterfinal win against Sickles.

It was certainly a record-breaking year for the Hawks, who had three players rank among the state’s best all season.

Atkins caught 70 passes for 1,245 yards and 13 touchdowns and also ran for 410 yards and nine scores.

He will leave as the Hawks’ all-time leader in receiving yards (2,543 on 155 receptions) and touchdowns (48). He also had 578 yards rushing for his career and 899 yards in return yardage.

Mohr, meanwhile, had 1,490 receiving yards on 70 catches (and 11 touchdowns) this season, which is believed to be a Brevard County record.

Then there’s Norton, a sophomore who became the first Viera quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards (3,351) and run for more than 1,000 (1,343) in a season. He threw for 32 touchdowns and ran for 13 more.

The return of Norton gives Viera plenty of hope for the future, but he’s not the only underclassman who either started, got significant playing time, or saw some action during the season for the Hawks.

When talking about Viera’s future, don’t forget Barfield, Cooper Davis, Andrew Hart, Brady Touzet, Jalen Housey, Jamari Lyons, Jeremiah Housey, Dan Steen, Jackson Hatfield, Zak Sedaros, Caleb Osburn, Karsten Poole, Nate DePlancke, TJ Johnson, Kato Holmes, Kei’Shawne Cooper, Jarvelle Francis, Colben Maher, Hunter Plotkin, Cooper Liston (who missed most of the year with an injury), DJ Pearson, Bryce Reynolds and Connor Kennedy.

But in this final game of the season, Viera coach Derek Smith’s thoughts were with his seniors.

“I don’t want to say much about what happened,” Viera coach Derek Smith said. “Like I told them, this senior class has done an absolutely great job of teaching the players behind them, the younger kids, about leadership, about brotherhood, about love and about hard work.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to be a part of this senior class from day one – as an assistant coach, and now as a head coach. I’m proud to say that this group of seniors is going to make our community proud one day, because they’re going to be good fathers and they’re going to be good people in the community.”

Murphy, who is pondering several scholarship offers, was asked about his emotions as he left Hawk Stadium as a member of the Viera football team for the final time.

“This place has done more for my family,” he said. “It’s given me an opportunity to go to college.

“College wasn’t an opportunity before football. This place will always be something special to me.”