The Viera Hawks have something to prove in 2023.
Friday night’s spring football game was just the first step.
Rising junior quarterback Chase Cromartie threw for 458 yards and six touchdowns – five of them to rising junior Zack Pillow – and a young defense had a big night as Viera defeated Bayside 52-21.
Coming off an 0-10 season where the Hawks had to rely on a number of sophomores in key positions, there has been a big emphasis on getting in the weight room to get bigger and working together to get better.
Friday night, the players got to see a little pay off for all the hard work they’ve been putting in.
“I think it was big. It was a spring game, but it’s like I keep telling these guys: we have something to prove. So, anytime we get to compete against somebody, we have something to prove, whether it’s to ourselves, to other people – whatever,” Viera coach Shane Staples said.
“I think (Friday) night was good because these guys have been working hard this offseason and I think they needed to see what it leads to. You work hard, this is what happens.
“The biggest thing is that they played as a team. They were cheering for each other on the sideline and excited when someone made a big play. That was good.”
There were plenty of big plays to cheer on, too.
Cromartie, who was limited to five games last season because of injuries (including a season-ending concussion), completed 24 of 36 passes on the way to his 458-yard, six-touchdown performance.
“It was good for him because his season ended probably in the worst way,” Staples said. “With me preaching we’ve got something to prove, I think he had something to prove to himself; that he could play at this stage and he get back out on the field and do it.
“It was good to see him be confident again and really succeed. I think that was a big hurdle for him.”
Cromartie, who said, “it felt good to get a win,” connected with six different receivers on the night.
Pillow caught 11 passes for 185 yards, including touchdown passes of 13, 5, 4, 43 and 7 yards.
Rising sophomore Eric Nelson had seven receptions for 140 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown catch and run. Nelson also took over for Cromartie late in the second half and scored on a 6-yard run.
Rising senior Javon Cooper had five catches for 93 yards. Jonah Woodruff caught two passes for 30 yards, Bruce Tucker had two for 28 yards and Jack Hancock caught one pass for 12 yards.
And that was all without receiver Mikey Schmidt, who is still playing baseball.
“It feels great that I have four, or five, or six receivers that I know I can walk out on the field at any time and trust them all to make a play for me, catch a ball, and help us win a game,” Cromartie said.
Running back Ryan Boobar also had a nice game for Viera, rushing 14 times for 100 yards.
That all bodes well for an offensive line that will be replacing four of five starters next season,
Friday night’s starters included Johnny Arroyo at left tackle; Jackson Detwiler at left guard; Finn Goldinger (the only returner) at center; Connor Freeman at right guard and Grant Kindig at right tackle.
“I think they played a great game,” Cromartie said of his offensive line. “I did not get sacked once last night and that’s always a success for the line. Obviously, there are things to fix up, but they’re doing great and Boobar is helping out of the backfield, too.”
Another big question the Hawks will face this upcoming season will be on the defensive end, where Viera figures to be quite young.
Friday night’s starting group featured four rising sophomores – Sal Orlando; Blake Thomas; James Olson and Tay Blackwell – along with rising juniors Isaac Hungerbuhler, Cooper Keith and Jaylen McCray.
The rising seniors included Owen George; Jayden Meyer; Colin Mutz and Carter Virsik.
Hungerbuhler had three sacks on the night while Meyer had two and George one to help the Hawks break out to a 24-0 lead before a coverage breakdown just before the first half allowed the Bears to rip off a long touchdown.
“I was most thrilled with the defensive effort last night,” Staples said. “We gave up three big plays, but you take those three plays out – and I know you could say that about every game – but they really shut them down for the most part.
“That’s what we’ve preached, make people drive on us. Make people put 10-play drives together, because that’s hard in high school. I told them they played well for the most part. We gave up a couple of big plays, but we were tackling well and we were getting pressure on the quarterback. I was thrilled with them.”
The Viera coach was also pleased with kicker Blake Pulliam, who made all seven of his point-after attempts and also kicked a 25-yard field goal.
“I think he’s the best, if not one of the best, kickers in the county this year,” Staples said. “I’m excited for his season, too.”
With their spring work now complete, the Hawks will head into the summer working on conditioning and continuing to put time in the weight room. And just as they have since the season ended, you can expect Cromartie and his skill players to throw it around a little as well.
“A couple of them said, ‘Why do we have to wait so long for the fall?’ They’re ready to go,” Staples said. “I think it added some excitement, which is good going into the summer. It will get these guys to work even harder.
“I think we’re excited for the fall to come.”
While some people may say spring football games really don’t mean that much in the grand scheme of things, Friday’s effort gave the Hawks some much needed momentum they hope will carry over.
“It will bring us closer,” Cromartie said. “We know if we continue to do what we’ve done through spring, we can be a great team this fall.”