Six inches of grass.
At the end of the night, that’s all that stood between the Viera Hawks and their shot at their first and only win of the season.
Six lousy inches.
It certainly wasn’t a lack of effort or will. It was simply a great play by the Merritt Island defense, which stopped the Hawks short on their two-point conversion try with 23 seconds remaining to preserve a 28-27 victory by the visiting Mustangs on Senior Night at Viera.
A Senior Night that will be remembered by all of Hawk Nation, each in their own way.
“Really, just sad,” senior defensive lineman Logan Keith said of his emotions after the team’s final huddle.
“Not about the loss, but about finishing football. Football was never in my plans, really. I started playing when I was a freshman, just because I thought I’d start something new. I’ve always been a baseball kid.
“I tried something new and I loved it. Playing with these guys, they’re my brothers. I’ll always stay in touch with them, always love them. That’s really what I’m sad about right now.”
If there was any solace for Viera’s 14 seniors – Keith; Quincy Gillins; Cameron Mills; Hayes Kingston; Reece Reynolds; Dominick Gentile; Bradon Arevalos; Daniel Gutierrez; Aiden Allen; Derek Wildman; Maguire Pedrick; Chase Lohman; Jacob Chiesea ; Yordan Torres and Julian Francis – it’s that they know they gave every once of energy they had Friday night … and all season, for that matter.
“Six inches, right? Hell of a game,” Viera coach Shane Staples said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these seniors. These guys led the right way. And I think if we go back and look at the stats, the seniors had big nights tonight.
“I mean, Dom Gentile left it all on the field for sure tonight. The offensive line … one sophomore, but five other seniors played … probably the best game of their careers. Quincy always shows up. He’s Mr. Solid at receiver. He makes big plays at the right time.
“It’s a learning experience, something for the younger guys to build on for next year. Like I said, those (seniors) stepped up, and I have a good, young bunch that I’m excited to be with the next couple of years. We’ve got nothing to hold our heads about tonight. We fought.”
That they did.
After giving up a touchdown on Merritt Island’s opening drive, the Hawks drove to the Mustangs 10-yard line after a nice catch by Gillins only to lose possession on a fumble. Merritt Island quickly went down and scored to make it a 14-0 game and, in that moment, it looked like it was going to be another rough night for the Hawks.
But back came Viera.
First, it was a 21-yard touchdown pass from Gentile to Gillins, who made a nice adjustment to the ball in the air for a touchdown to cut the lead in half.
Then, just before the half, the Hawks pulled out the old Philly Special used by the Eagles against the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. This time, it was Gentile who moved to his right just before the snap, which went to sophomore receiver Zack Pillow.
Pillow found a wide-open Gentile for the 10-yard touchdown and the game was tied at 14-14 with 44 seconds left in the half.
Merritt Island threatened, but sophomore defensive end Isaac Hungerbuhler sacked the quarterback and the teams went to the break.
Once again, the Mustangs (6-4) showed how dangerous they can be by scoring on their opening drive of the third quarter.
And once again, the Hawks would answer with Gentile returning the favor and connecting with Pillow on a 15-yard touchdown to tie things up again.
If there was a back-breaker for Viera, it might have come next when the defense had Merritt Island facing a fourth-and-long and then jumped offside on back-to-back plays, giving the Mustangs a fourth-and-short situation, which they converted. Not only that, Merritt Island went on to score and take a 28-21 lead.
Time was running out on Viera when it finally got the ball for the last time with just over three minutes remaining and the ball deep in its own territory.
The Hawks moved the ball behind the running of Gentile and sophomore Ryan Boobar and completions to Javon Cooper, Eric Nelson and Nnamdi Osuarah, who made a great catch on a tipped ball.
Gentile then connected with Gillins on a pass to the 5-yard line. Viera tried to line up quickly and catch the Mustangs off guard, but Gentile was dropped at the 11-yard line with 35 seconds to play.
An incomplete pass set up third down. Gentile dumped the ball off to Boobar and the sophomore running back fought his way into the end zone with 23 seconds left.
So, what do you do? Play for the tie? Or go for the win? What would the seniors want?
The Hawks went for it. Boobar lined up behind Gentile and instead of the snap going to the quarterback, it went through his legs to the running back, who nearly pulled it off.
“I already knew they wanted to go for it,” Staples said. “But when we got the ball, I was sitting there telling myself we’re going to go down (and score) and go for two.
“We had a trick play for it ... six inches short. It was there. I think Boobar had a heck of a game tonight. Like I said, we have a lot of young guys that are coming up who had big games tonight as well. I’m excited.
“I told them to take these 10 games, remember what it feels like and they have no excuse but to work hard now.”
If there is one thing that can be said about this year’s Hawks, it’s that they played hard throughout the season and never quit on themselves despite having plenty of opportunities to do just that.
If they can keep those talented underclassmen together, they could be a really fun group to watch in the next few years and Viera can return to being one of Brevard County’s top programs.
Gentile, who started at quarterback in four of Viera’s last five games because of injuries to sophomore Chase Cromartie, had his best game of the season.
The senior completed 17 of 28 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball 19 times for 130 yards and had one catch for 10 yards and a touchdown.
Boobar ran for 83 yards on 16 carries and Mills had two rushes for six yards.
Gillins had six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. Nelson, a freshman, had five receptions for 68 yards. Boobar had two catches for 10 yards and a score. Pillow had a 15-yard reception for a touchdown. Cooper caught one pass for 15 yards. Osuarah had one reception for 12 yards.
When the game ended, there were hugs all around. Some seniors stayed on the field, soaking up every last-second they could from their final high school game.
“Oh man, it’s been a wild ride, that’s for sure,” Kingston said. “We fought until the end. We played a hell of a football game, fought until the end. We came up six inches short. But as coach said in the huddle, for the younger classmen, get in the weight room and just use that as fuel for next year.”
Kingston had praise for one of those youngsters in particular.
“Props to Ryan Boobar, our sophomore running back,” he said. “He played a hell of a game, ran his (butt) off. I’m so proud of that kid. Only God knows what the future holds for him. He’s a hell of a player.”
If there was any Viera player who had the world fall on their shoulders after their final game, it was Kingston, who later sat on the field with Reynolds … two friends taking it all in.
Not only did Kingston play for the Hawks for four years, he was a ball boy for Viera when he was 10 or 11 years old. He watched his older brother, Hayden, lead Viera to a state championship game appearance. And this year, he was a team captain.
“I’ve been here since 2012, when my brother was here,” Kingston said. “I played youth league for the Suntree Viera Lightning, and then the Suntree Viera Hawks since I was about four.
“It’s crazy. Fourteen years of my life just kind of ended like that. But I wouldn’t do it anywhere else. I love the Hawks. I love green and gold. I’ll always be a Hawk. It will always have a special place in my heart.
“… Obviously, I’m pretty upset (it’s over). I played four years of Viera football. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I mean, I grew up here. I watched my brother play here. I’ve been around this program longer than most people here.
“I’ve never played football in anything but a Viera jersey. It really means a lot to walk off the field for the last time and turn in my equipment in as a Hawk. It definitely means a lot. Love.”