Viera defense comes up big as Hawks top DeLand


Viera High linebacker Johnny Eaton shakes a would-be tackler on his way to an 82-yard interception return for a touchdown Friday night as the Hawks defeated DeLand 25-20.


The Viera High football team showed themselves something Friday night.

And that’s what made the Hawks’ 25-20 victory over visiting DeLand so special, and so important to what happens the rest of the season.

Because it wasn’t just about football.

It was about attitude.

“I want to say how proud I am of our team getting each other’s backs,” Hawks coach Derek Smith said.

“I’m really proud. I mean … I’m the one that gets angry on the sideline. That’s my job, to get angry. I had players (tonight) look at me and go, ‘Coach, we’ve got each other’s back. Don’t worry about it.’”

The Hawks (3-2) needed to be at the top of their game to get past a tough, athletic DeLand team that kept coming at them on Senior Night at Hawk Stadium.

Nick Decker hit field goals 45 and 25 yards and Bryce Norton added a 1-yard touchdown run after a big play by senior running back Jarvelle Francis.

But it was Viera’s defense that carried the night. Sophomore linebacker Johnny Eaton returned a one-handed interception 82-yards for a touchdown and sophomore defensive tackle Jamari Lyons also had a pick six from 15 yards out when he read a screen pass perfectly and stepped in to make the big play.

Lyons said it was “amazing” scoring the second touchdown of his career, but admitted he certainly more used to making tackles than finding the end zone.

“To be honest, when I got the ball in my hands, I was like, ‘What do I do with it?’” Lyons said. “I just ran.”

Lyons’ touchdown touched off a wild celebration on the Viera sideline because … well … who doesn’t like to see one of the big guys get in the end zone?

It was all part of a standout defensive effort put on by the Hawks, particularly up front with Lyons and Cooper Davis working on the inside and JuJu Barfield and Tyler Cooley coming off the edge.

“Dominant,” Lyons said of Viera’s defensive play Friday night.

“Just dominant. This is the best defensive line Viera’s going to see in a while.”

Eaton, a sophomore linebacker, scored his touchdown just before the end of the first half to give the Hawks a 9-7 lead after the PAT was missed.

“I saw the ball coming and I just had to pick it,” Eaton said. “My dog, Cooley, he gave me a tremendous block downfield that allowed me to score.”

The Hawks would get another pick when Davis tipped a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Zach Taylor.

But as much as Viera had the momentum, and a 19-7 lead, DeLand wasn’t going anywhere. The Bulldogs answered with a touchdown to make it a 19-14 game.

With the Viera offense facing a third-and-16 at the DeLand 37, and in desperate need of a big play, Francis caught a screen pass from Norton and appeared to be swallowed up by a group of five Bulldog defenders around the 30-yard line.

But instead of going down, Francis bounced off the contact and raced upfield where he was eventually knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard line after a gain of 36 yards.

“Oh my God, it was crazy,” Eaton said of Francis’ run. “He is something else. He’s going to be something special.”

Norton would finish off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run and after the second missed extra-point of the night, the Hawks had a 25-14 advantage.

After another DeLand touchdown cut the lead down to five, the Hawks were trying to run out the clock when it was ruled that DeLand recovered a Viera fumble at its own 23-yard line with 1:45 to play.

While the running back looked distraught, several members of the defense could be seen telling him they had his back.

And they did. The Hawks would force DeLand to turn the ball over on downs and Viera was able to run out the rest of the clock to seal the victory.

While Smith was obviously happy with his defense, he was also pleased with the effort by Francis, who came up with the big offensive play when Viera needed it.

“I’m proud of a guy like Jarvelle,” Smith said. “Last week (against Harmony), he started at corner. He didn’t play three weeks ago (against Rockledge). He was getting down on himself.

“We looked at him, and just like with every one of our teammates, we said, ‘You know your role on the team, but you never know when your role changes. Conquer the day when it does.’

“Last week, he conquered the day at DB. This week, he conquered the day out here. He didn’t give up. He made a great catch in the first half and that run at the end of the game was phenomenal. That kid has conquered the day two weeks in a row and I’m proud of that young man.”

The Hawks have certainly done a lot of growing as a team over the past two weeks. As Lyons said, this is now a group of players that are playing not just for themselves, but for the man next to them as well.

“We’ve definitely come together as a team,” Eaton said. “We’re more like a family now.”

And with district opponent Tohopekaliga (3-3) set to come to Viera for homecoming next week, the Hawks appear to be turning the corner.

“We’re achieving small goals,” Smith said. “That’s what we need to keep doing.”