Hawks lose heartbreaker in final seconds of Class 7A regional semifinal
Plant scores with 8.8 seconds remaining to win 22-18
Viera High running back Jaren Lewis runs for big yardage during the fourth quarter of Friday night's Class 7A regional semifinal against Plant. Lewis' big runs helped the Hawks take an 18-15 lead, but Plant would rally to win the game 22-18.
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
So what do you tell a bunch of kids who just had their hearts ripped out?
That was the conundrum for Viera High football coach Kevin Mays Friday night after Plant finished off a 92-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 8.8 seconds remaining to hand the Hawks a 22-18 loss in the Class 7A regional semifinals.
“I told them all I love them, and we’re going to do everything we can do to help them (get scholarships),” Mays said. “Losing like that’s always tough.
“You’re at a loss of words of what to tell them, because there’s nothing that’s going to make them feel better. It was a hard battle against a really good team.”
That it was, but you can bet the Hawks will be thinking about this one for a long time – about the plays they didn’t make, and the huge unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the final minute that was called on ... well, not any Viera players or coaches.
With 1:21 to play and Plant facing a third-and-6 deep in Viera territory, a flag was thrown, an unsportsmanlike penalty was called and the Panthers had the ball first-and-10 at the Viera 11.
Although an official near the sideline said the penalty was against the Viera band for playing just as the Plant offense was about to snap the ball, that was incorrect. Multiple people from the Viera administration and football coaching staff said the penalty was on the Viera High press box, which apparently ignored an earlier warning not to play the sound effect of a clock chiming and did it anyway.
It was a brutal call given the circumstances, with two team playing for their playoff survival.
It was also … not the reason the Hawks lost.
A bevy of missed opportunities and a Plant team that showed tremendous heart and resolve in the end wound up dooming Viera, which would have plenty of standout performances of its own.
On the game’s first drive, Viera senior defensive end Miguel Rodriguez sacked Plant quarterback Jordan McCloud, stripping the ball loose. The ball seemed to lay there for an eternity before it was scooped up by linebacker Brandon Mays, who returned to the Panthers’ 29-yard line.
But the Hawks couldn’t take advantage of the short field, having to settle for 39-yard field goal attempt by Trey Schaneville, which to his credit, he nailed to give Viera a 3-0 lead.
Later in that first quarter, an interception by Qunelius Phillips set the Viera offense up around midfield. And again, the Hawks had to rely on Schaneville’s leg for a 28-yard field goal try that made it a 6-0 game.
But perhaps the biggest missed opportunity came just before the end of the first half when, after Plant had scored a touchdown to grab the lead by one point, Viera’s Sean Atkins appeared to score on a 12-yard run only to have the TD nullified by a penalty.
The Hawks would eventually drive to the Panthers’ 2-yard line … and was stuffed on four straight running plays.
Viera did get a chance to re-take the lead when the Panthers made another mistake – faking a run into the line and then flipping the ball out to the running back, who couldn’t bring the ball in. Though Plant did recover the ball in the end zone, Rodriguez made the tackle for the safety that gave the Hawks an 8-7 halftime lead.
It would become 15-7 after Viera senior running back Jaren Lewis – who had a huge second half – ripped off a 30-yard touchdown run on a drive that was set up by Bear Bollinger’s interception.
But back came Plant as a scrambling McCloud eluded the Viera pass rush long enough to hook up for a 45-yard pass play on a busted coverage. That led to the game-tying touchdown and 2-point conversion.
Viera senior wide receiver Travis Jones then appeared to return the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown only to have the big play wiped out by a block-in-the-back penalty.
“Offensively, we were off tonight,” Kevin Mays said. “We had two or three deep balls that missed by inches. They call it a game of inches for a reason. We were just off from scoring some touchdowns.”
With Lewis ripping off back-to-back runs of 22 and 15 yards behind an offensive line of Max Lawson, Hunter Plotkin, Gavin Lamp, Gio Allen and Andrew Hart, the Hawks moved the ball to the Plant 9-yard line before stalling once again.
But when Schaneville made his third field goal of the game, this one from 25 yards out with 4:34 to play, it seemed it might just be Viera’s night after all.
The Hawks defense pinned the Panthers back, with help from a great play by linebacker Kyler Doane, who tipped away a third-down pass and forced Plant to punt. But this time, Viera’s offense went three-and-out and senior Max Pacheaco was called on to pin Plant deep in its own territory, which he did.
Plant took over at its own 8 with 2:23 remaining and on its first play, McCloud rolled right and completed a 39-yard pass that suddenly had the Panthers in gear.
“We had them pinned,” Viera senior James Klaas said. “It was just a broken coverage. There was nothing we could really do about it. We tried to push ourselves through the pain. We were all tired, but they got the better of us at the end of it.”
After the unsportsmanlike penalty on third down gave the Panthers the ball at the 11-yard line, they would move the ball down to the Viera 1 and eventually score on a dive by their fullback for the game-winning, heartbreaking score.
It was the final game for Viera High seniors Brandon Mays; Rodriguez; Jones; Seth Kennedy; David Eaton; Noah Cherichel; Phillips; Schaneville; Lewis; Tim DeMorat; Doane; Pacheaco; Quinton Russack-Cradeur; Klaas; Carson Helton; Mike Buccieri; Gio Allen; Matt Foose; Alex Balough; Lawson; Jordan Allen and Anthony Collard.
“They’re a great group,” Kevin Mays said. “Obviously, I’ve got a connection with them because of (my son) Brandon. But most of those guys have been with me for four years.
“They’ve worked their tails off. I’m going to say they’re the winningest group that’s come through here, as far as games won. It’s just a bunch of quality guys. You don’t get a lot of groups that come through like that.”
While the Hawks will certainly lose a lot of talent and have to replace players at key positions, they have a talented group of underclassmen to build around like Cortez Reid, Brock Holland, Atkins, Garrett Kaminski, Bollinger, Lamp, Plotkin, Hart, Nate DePlancke, Aaron Thomas, Andre Jones, Chancellor McGriff, Chris Murphy and Bryce Norton.
“We’ve got a good core group of young guys coming back,” Mays said. “We’ll take off until January and come back.”
The future may still be bright for the Hawks, but Friday night was about the seniors who closed out their careers with a loss that was painful for sure. But when the dust all settles, they’ll also know they have a lot to be proud of.
They won four district titles while they were at Viera, and they created plenty of memories and friendships along the way.
Nothing can ever take that away.
“My four years here were, honestly, probably the best time of my life,” Klaas said. “Coach Mays, (defensive coordinator) Coach (Derek) Smith … all the coaches, I just want to thank them.
“My four years here have been the best of my life.”