Hawks get early taste of what challenges postseason play may hold for them


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Viera's Zak Sedaros returns an interception during Friday night's game against Vero Beach. The Hawks would lose 28-14 in their regular-season finale, but will still advance to next week's Class 7A playoffs.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

VERO BEACH – Friday night’s 28-14 loss to the Vero Beach Indians isn’t likely to have an impact on the Viera High football team’s standing in the Class 7A playoff rankings.

But it was a stark reminder to the Hawks of what kinds of challenges could be awaiting them as they move into the postseason.

The Vero Beach Indians dominated up front, took advantage of several costly Viera mistakes and ran their state-record winning streak for regular-season games to 62 with the victory.

“I just told them, ‘Look, game is game,’” Viera coach Derek Smith said. “We’ve got to go back to the drawing pool table and we’ve got to play up front. We got whipped up front in this game. Both sides of the football, we got beat up front.

“Playoff football is won on the O-line and D-line and we did not play the best O-line, D-line that we could tonight. Those guys are going to go back, they’re going to search their souls and we’ll be ready to play on Monday.”

The Hawks (6-3) locked in their spot in the Class 7A playoffs by winning the District 5 championship last week. And no matter what happened Friday night in Vero Beach, Viera was expected to be the No. 3 seed in Region 2 behind Lakeland and Armwood.

Official seedings and pairings for this year’s playoffs will be announced by the FHSAA on Sunday morning.

As a district champion, Viera will play at home on Friday. If last week’s RPI projections hold, the Hawks would face either Tampa Bay Tech (7-3) or Bloomingdale (8-2).

Melbourne (7-3), meanwhile, would make the playoffs as the No. 8 seed and have to travel to face either Armwood (9-1) or Lakeland (10-0).

Regardless of who the Hawks play, they will have to get back to being the team that had won five straight games going into Friday night’s game against Class 8A Vero Beach.

Viera went into the game missing four key players – linebackers Zach Taylor and Connor Kennedy, wide receiver Donovan Giles and offensive lineman Cooper Liston – for various reasons.

That said, it looked like this one might turn into a shootout in the early going.

The Hawks took the ball down the field on their opening drive and had a chance to take an early lead. Instead, they missed a 34-yard field goal when it bounced off the left upright.

Vero Beach (10-0) took over and immediately went down and scored to take a 7-0 lead.

Back came the Hawks as quarterback Bryce Norton hit Zak Sedaros with a 15-yard pass on third-and-5 from the Vero Beach 40. Several plays later, Norton would roll to his right and hit Jeremiah Housey, who was pushed out of bounds at the 1-yard line.

That set up a Davis Mallinger touchdown run, and the game was tied.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, that’s when their mistakes – and some solid play by Vero Beach – caught up to them.

After the Indians took the lead again 14-7, Viera put together a potential game-tying drive just before the end of the first half. Norton completed a pass to T.J. Johnson that would have given the Hawks the ball at the Vero Beach 17-yard line.

However, that play was called back because of a holding penalty, which was followed by intentional grounding and a blocked punt.

Now, it was Vero Beach with the chance to increase its lead before the half.

Viera’s defense would come up big this time, as Sedaros intercepted a pass near his own end zone and returned it to the Vero Beach 31-yard line with one second left in the half.

Norton was again forced to scramble, and this time, he found a wide-open Cooper Davis across the field. Davis did his best to fight his way into the end zone, but was stopped two yards short by a host of defenders.

As good as it was to keep the Indians off the board, the momentum didn’t last. Vero Beach scored on its first drive of the second half to go up 21-7.

The Hawks would try to rally once again. A 27-yard pass from Norton to Mallinger and a 24-yard run by Johnson put the ball at the Vero Beach 16-yard line.

Norton took it in on the next play, and the Hawks had cut the lead in half.

The next sequence went a long way toward deciding the game.

Viera’s defense stopped Vero Beach short and a subsequent 35-yard field goal try was no good, giving the Hawks the ball with a chance to go on another game-tying drive.

Instead, Viera fumbled the ball at its own 43-yard line and Vero Beach would cash in on the turnover to push the lead back to 28-14.

The Hawks, who had been doing a good job of minimizing their mistakes during their five-game winning streak, would not get any closer.

Costly penalties, a dropped pass that would have gone for a long gain, if not a touchdown, and big plays by the Vero Beach offense would prove to be their undoing.

“That happens when you’re replacing players last minute,” Smith said. “We’ve just got to understand we’ve got to adapt and overcome. Every player on this football team needs to understand they’re important.

“I told the kids today, ‘Even if you get six reps, your six reps need to be the best six reps you can give. You can’t make one of those six reps be a terrible rep because you weren’t ready to play.’”

Although no team wants to go into the playoffs on a loss, Smith didn’t think Friday night’s game will have any lingering effect on his team.

It’s onto the postseason.