Hawks struggle early before pulling away from Melbourne in district football opener
DeMorat throws for 3 TDS, defense forces 4 turnovers in Viera's 52-16 victory
Viera defensive end Marco Foreman forces a fumble during the first half of Friday night's district opener against Melbourne. Brandon Mays would return the fumble 22 yards for a touchdown for the Hawks.
If you were to take a quick glance at the final score of Friday night’s Viera-Melbourne game, you would probably think it was a pretty comfortable night for the Hawks.
But there was nothing comfy about Viera’s 52-16 victory over the visiting Bulldogs … at least in the first half.
Melbourne (1-4, 0-1) put up quite a fight early on against the Hawks (4-2, 1-0) in their Class 7A, District 6 opener before Viera took over in the second half.
“It was a stressful win,” Viera coach Kevin Mays said.
Make no mistake, there were plenty of positives for the Hawks.
Quarterback Tim DeMorat completed 16 of 30 passes for 307 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a score. Travis Jones caught two of those TD tosses and finished with four receptions for 174 yards.
Defensively, the Hawks forced four turnovers and turned two of them into touchdowns. And the pass rush was particularly effective in the second half.
But it was the first half that was the cause for concern.
Perhaps it was the lightning delay that lasted over an hour. Perhaps it was the fact that four Viera players were facing their former school and maybe let their emotions get the better of them.
Or maybe, it was simply that Melbourne came out and played a solid, determined first half for which the Bulldogs deserve all the credit.
But it certainly was a rough first half for the Hawks – and it could have been worse without a few big plays.
Viera would take an early lead when defensive end Marco Foreman would force a fumble that linebacker Brandon Mays returned 22 yards for a touchdown, but Melbourne would score on its next possession to tie things up.
The Hawks would reclaim the lead on a 6-yard TD pass from Tim DeMorat to Sean Atkins to go up 14-7, but Melbourne would answer with a field goal to cut the lead to four.
Viera punter Max Pacheaco then came up big, pinning the Bulldogs down at their 1-yard line. Melbourne would fumble on it next play and Justin Harrison would recover it in the end zone for a touchdown that would put the Hawks up 21-10.
Game over, right?
Not so fast. The Bulldogs would score on a 24-yard pass from Nick Nescio to Corey Vincitore (the PAT would fail) and then recover a Viera fumble at the Hawks’ 40-yard line on the ensuing kickoff
A pass interference call placed the ball at the Viera 25, but that would be as far as Melbourne would get as the Bulldogs were eventually forced to try a 44-yard field goal.
Which brings us to our turning point.
The long field goal attempt, which would have cut Viera’s lead to 21-19, was no good. And on Viera’s first play, DeMorat would hit Jones in stride and the speedy junior would go 80 yards for a score to put the Hawks up 28-16.
Talk about a momentum swing.
“It was crazy,” Jones said. “(DeMorat) threw it right in the pocket, right where I needed it.”
By utilizing its timeouts, the Hawks were able to force Melbourne to punt just before the half and a big return by Sean Atkins to the Bulldogs’ 7-yard line put Viera in business once again.
Trey Schaneville’s 22-yard field goal gave Viera a 31-16 halftime lead and also gave the Hawks a chance to work some things out.
“I think we kind of lost ourselves (in the first half),” junior linebacker Brandon Mays said. “At halftime, we told each other to settle down, not let the emotions get the best of us, and play football.”
The second half was all Viera.
DeMorat would score on a 17-yard run. Mike Vega followed that up with a 10-yard touchdown run and then DeMorat closed out the scoring with a 55-yard throw to Jones for the score.
Defensively, Will Champion and Lance Reynolds both intercepted passes and Viera’s pass rush broke through in a big way as Miguel Rodriguez was in on at least five sacks and Foreman, Justin Harrison and Wilson all stepped up their games with help from linebackers Brock Holland and David Eaton.
“They’re a good team and we were lucky enough to (be) 1-0 in the district,” Kevin Mays said. “That’s what I said we wanted to be. That’s the most important thing.”
With starting running back Brennen DePlancke out with an injury, it was also important to see the Hawks’ passing game make some improvements from last week, and that was definitely the case Friday night.
DeMorat completed passes to six different receivers and definitely seems to be developing a good connection with Jones as of late.
“We’re just knowing the open spots in the coverages to where I’ll be able to get open and use my speed and catch the ball,” Jones said.
So while it was a big night for the Hawks overall, they also came out of the game having learned a valuable lesson.
“Never take a team lightly,” Brandon Mays said. “This whole week, we were kind of light-hearted, thought it was just going to be a quick one. They came out and fought.
“We had to bring it.”
Although the Hawks have one more home game – their homecoming game on Oct. 14 against Martin County – Friday night was Senior Night.
Among those being celebrated were Champion, Connor Kaminski, Don Jackson, Reynolds, DePlancke, Keith Freeman, Vega, Nicholas Hibbs, Matthew Ellis, Harrison, Lonnie Reddick Jr., Foreman, Connor Guest, Jacob Wigley, Blake Ward, Jordan Romero, Dominic Donnelo, Cooper Dardano, Luke Delancey, Austin Roberts, Glenn Smith, Brannon Dimare, Cody Keesecker, Kaelan Yakich, Peyton Wallingford and Wilson.