The Viera High boys soccer team is heading into uncharted territory.
And man, does it feel good.
“I can’t be prouder of these boys,” Viera junior Conner Floyd said after the Hawks defeated visiting Plant City 2-0 in the Class 6A regional semifinals Saturday night to reach the regional final for the first time in program history.
“Like I’ve said, the mentality of this team, you can’t match it. It feels amazing.”
Viera (17-1-2) is scheduled to host George Jenkins (6-9-2) Tuesday night at 7 for the right to go to the state final four.
After a scoreless first half with Plant City (15-3-1), the Hawks got goals from Floyd and freshman Max May, along with a brilliant save by freshman goalkeeper Alvey Kaufman to secure their first-even victory in a regional semifinal.
“It took us 20-30 minutes to find our groove tonight and get into a rhythm,” Viera coach Nick Robinson said. “But like I said with this team, we persevere. We know as long as we’re doing the right things defensively and we’re keeping clean sheets, we know we’re going to score.
“We know that we’re strong defensively, and if we have to lean on our defensive guys like Nyles (Lockridge), Austin (Kehoe) and Conner – everyone was great today – we know we can always do that.”
Plant City did its best to disrupt Viera’s offense early on and certainly had some success in the first half. The Raiders intercepted a number of passes and their physical style was certainly a factor. Viera had several chances to score, but couldn’t convert.
“We watched film on this team and we knew what they were trying to do,” Floyd said. “Their back line tucks in. The difference between this game compared to Bloomindale (which Viera beat 6-1 in the regional quarterfinals) is that this team was more collective defensively, which made it a little tough for us.
“But we knew as long as we kept moving the ball across the 18 (yard box), chances were going to come.”
That next chance came just over a minute into the second half, when Viera’s Jack Koegel headed the ball into the box and Floyd was able to beat a defender, and then the keeper, for the goal and a 1-0 Viera lead.
“The ball came over the top, I tracked the ball and the keeper came out,” Floyd said. “It’s a 50-50 (ball). I’m not going to let him come out ... I won the ball, it was an open net, and I just tapped it in.”
Plant City had an opportunity to tie the game when 21-goal scorer David Ruiz lined up for a free kick about 10 yards outside the box. Ruiz drilled a shot over the wall, but Kaufman dove and was able to get his hand on the ball to knock it away.
“I just got my wall set,’ Kaufman said. “I watched film on this kid, David. I knew he had a great left foot, a great strike. That’s how he beat (Melbourne in the regional quarterfinals), with his free kick.
“He’s left-footed. He’s going to come across the goal. He’s going to try to swing it across. I started to look further on the far side and I just laid out for it full stretch and I got there.”
The Raiders didn’t get the goal, but they did get a corner kick and had another attempt right in front of the goal that Alvey blocked and the ball was cleared out by Lockridge.
Viera would get its second goal of the game with just over 15 minutes remaining when May made an exceptional play, beating three Plant City defenders and then chipping the ball past an onrushing goalkeeper to make it 2-0.
From there, the Hawks were able to close out the game. It was the 13th shutout on the season for Viera, which has relied on two keepers – Kaufman and senior Andrew Sanger – and strong play from its back line to keep teams from scoring.
“I couldn’t thank the guys in front of me enough,” Kaufman said. “The 10 men in front of me, they just work and work and work. If I didn’t have a defense like this, I don’t think we’d be going as far as we are.
“Especially Nyles and Austin holding the back line. They’re definitely leaders. They know what to do and I look up to them a lot being a freshman and them being a junior and a senior.”
Now the Hawks are poised to make even more history if they can get by a George Jenkins team that shouldn’t be taken lightly because of its record. Teams don’t make the regional finals if they’re not high quality and the Eagles are clearly playing at full strength in the playoffs.
But this Viera team has clearly shown it’s a special group.
“This group of boys has been fantastic all season,” Robinson said. “They deserve it. They’ve done everything I’ve asked of them. We needed some maturity from some key guys this year and we’ve gotten that.
“I’m proud of them.”
It’s one thing to have a goal, another to actually achieve it. But the time to look back will come later. The Hawks still have some goals they want to accomplish.
“It’s going to take it a second to set in,” Kaufman said. “I’m just looking forward to seeing who we play, watch some film, see who their star players are up top and do what we do best.”