Viera leaves no doubt, tops Melbourne for sixth straight district football title
Viera High's Jeremiah Housey intercepts a pass during Friday night's district showdown between the Hawks and the Melbourne Bulldogs. Housey also ran for two touchdowns as the Hawks defeated the Bulldogs 44-7 to claim their sixth straight district title.
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
It was supposed to be a showdown.
The Viera Hawks turned it into a showcase instead.
Jeremiah Housey ran for two touchdowns, Davis Mallinger caught two touchdown passes and the Viera defense added a pair of scores on its own as the Hawks defeated the host Melbourne Bulldogs 44-7 to win the Class 7A, District 5 title Friday night.
“This feels good,” Housey said. “We came in with a vengeance. They said they were going to beat us and become district champs. But no, we’re the defending district champs, and we wanted to re-claim it.”
Re-claim it, they did. In fact, Viera (6-2) has now won six consecutive district championships and has once again secured a spot in the FHSAA playoffs with one game remaining in the regular season.
“It’s awesome,” senior offensive tackle and co-captain Andrew Hart said.
“There aren’t really words to describe it. It’s just … fun.”
Friday night’s game at Tom McIntyre Stadium received more pregame hype than any in recent memory between the two rivals. But this one was all Viera right from the start.
Melbourne (7-2) came in averaging more than 30 poi
nts a game thanks in large part to a high-powered running led by Tony Wright. But the Bulldogs struggled to get anything going against Viera’s defensive front, which included Cooper Davis, Jamari Lyons, JuJu Barfield, Tyler Cooley, Nate Acevedo and Jackson Hatfield.
Viera linebacker Zach Taylor intercepted a pass on Melbourne’s first possession, setting the Hawks up at the Bulldogs’ 25-yard line. Housey would take it in from the 3-yard line to give the Hawks an early 6-0 lead that allowed Viera to set the tone early and not give Melbourne a chance to grab the momentum.
Another Viera score, this one on a 10-yard run by Housey, made it 12-0 early in the second quarter.
It became 19-0 after a Housey interception helped set up a 3-yard run by Jarvelle Francis and the Hawks, who have been more of a second half team of late, were putting up some big first half numbers.
“It’s very exciting to see our offense go out on those first couple of drives and start scoring,” Hart said.
Melbourne, enjoying its best season since 2014, would get the big play it was looking for on a long pass play where Viera’s defense had a coverage breakdown.
The Bulldogs would score to pull within 12 late in the second quarter, but Melbourne’s momentum didn’t last. Viera would answer with a 33-yard pass play from Bryce Norton to Housey to get within striking distance.
Norton would finish off the drive by finding Mallinger, who transferred in from Melbourne prior to this season, for an 8-yard touchdown pass.
The play of the first half, however, came moments later when Davis recognized the Bulldogs were about to attempt a double pass. The Viera defensive line stepped into the passing lane, picked the ball off, and went 47 yards for the touchdown with just over a minute remaining in the second quarter to give the Hawks a 32-7 lead.
“That was three hours of film (study),” Davis said. “I saw the O-line move. I’d seen it millions of times. I knew what was coming. Somehow, a ray of sunshine opened up.”
Viera opened the second half with another Norton-to-Mallinger touchdown throw, this one from 22 yards out as Mallinger did a nice job of beating the Melbourne defense to reach the end zone. It was also the fourth time in as many games that Norton and Mallinger have combined for a score.
With Viera leading 38-7, a heavy rainstorm hit the Melbourne area that made playing conditions sloppy at best and the ball, well, a little hard to hold onto.
That was certainly the case as Melbourne would fumble the ball and Barfield would scoop it up at the 9-yard line and take it in for the touchdown to close out the scoring at 44-7 following a missed 2-point conversion try.
Viera’s Kato Holmes would grab an interception, giving Viera’s defense five turnovers on the night.
It was an emotional win for the Hawks, in particular for Mallinger and linebacker D’Andre Lewis – who transferred to Viera from Melbourne –and for Viera coach Derek Smith, who grew up in Palm Bay when the Pirates and Bulldogs were big-time rivals.
While Smith wasn’t happy about Viera’s three missed extra points, he was happy with the overall play of his team, which proved once again that when it comes to district play, the Hawks are the big dogs in the yard.
“It doesn’t matter if we win by 50, win by 60, we’re going to go back and watch the film and critique the film because it’s not (just) about winning this game,” Smith said.
“It was (about) winning this game to get to the playoffs. Now, it’s about proceeding and going as far as we can in the playoffs.”
Viera, which came into the week projected as the No. 3 seed in the regional playoffs, will close out the regular season on the road against Vero Beach, which set a new state record Friday night with a 28-3 win over Fort Pierce Central.
It was the 61st consecutive regular-season victory for Vero Beach, which is in Class 8A.
Melbourne, which was projected as the No. 8 seed in Class 7A heading into the week, will close out the its regular season with a home game against Eau Gallie.
As for the Melbourne-Viera rivalry, it certainly has been one-sided over the course of history.
The Bulldogs won the first seven meetings between the two teams. Viera has won the last six.
And the program that was once homecoming fodder for opponents now has six straight district championships.
“I think this speaks to our coaching staff and how they built a franchise almost out of this program,” Davis said. “I don’t see us losing this district title anytime soon.”