PALM BAY – Thursday night’s spring football game gave Viera High football fans got their first look at what the Hawks will look like under new coach Shane Staples.
The results were pretty impressive.
Despite playing with a roster full of freshmen and sophomores, the Hawks held their own against the bigger, more athletic Heritage Panthers.
Rising sophomore quarterback Chase Cromartie threw for three touchdowns – two of them to rising senior Dominick Gentile – in the first three quarters. Gentile then hit rising sophomore Mikey Schmidt on a 14-yard fade to the corner of the end zone with 20 seconds remaining and, after rising sophomore Seth Hufty kicked the extra point, the Hawks walked away with a 28-28 tie.
“I think it was good,” Staples said. “I think we saw the things we need to work on. I think we saw what we’re good at. Our offense was clicking tonight. I kind of expected us to be right about there.
“Our young quarterback looked good tonight. My senior receivers looked good tonight. They made some big plays. I’ve got some playmakers. I’m deep at receiver.
“The defense is young. We gave up some big plays. But I’m proud. They fought. They battled. We can shore up some things and we’re going to be all right.”
At one point during Thursday night’s game, the Hawks had four freshmen/rising sophomores on the defensive line in Jaylen McCray, Jayden Carney, Grant Kindig and Isaac Hungerbuhler along with a linebacking crew that including three freshmen/rising sophomores in Hufty, Zack Pillow and Collin Roddy and one sophomore/rising junior in Tim Mills.
“I had seven freshmen on the field in the front eight,” Staples said. “… For us to battle against a bigger team, I was proud of our guys.”
Logan Keith, a rising senior offensive tackle, said he thought the Hawks played better than they expected to against a Heritage team that they will see on Sept. 30 in a regular-season Class 4S, District 11 matchup.
“Our offense, the offensive line especially, showed up today,” Keith said. “No sacks (allowed), really impressive. Defense … 11 new guys on the field. What are we going to do when we have 11 new guys on the field? We showed everyone what we’re going to do.”
Keith even found himself helping out on defense, getting inserted into the lineup along with freshman/rising sophomore Finn Goldinger to help solidify the Viera front against a physical Heritage running game.
“I haven’t practice defensive line in a while,” Keith said. “But I feel like I fit into the rotation pretty well today.”
Goldinger certainly did. In fact, he might have had the hit of the night, blowing past his blocker and delivering one of those hits you could hear throughout stadium Thursday night.
“Finn did a really good job today,” Keith said.
Rising senior Bradon Arevelos also had a nice game for the Hawks, intercepting a pass in the first quarter. Sophomore/rising junior Owen George batted down a pass.
Offensively, a line that included Keith, Finnegan, Hayes Kingston, Aidan Allen and Derek Widman did a good job of keeping the pressure off Cromartie throughout the night.
The young quarterback showed excellent poise, not hanging onto the ball too long, or forcing throws into coverage, while also delivering accurate passes to receivers like Gentile and rising senior Quincy Gillins.
“No sacks. No interceptions and barely any incomplete passes,” Gentile said of Cromartie. “He did amazing.”
Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from Thursday night is just how much fun it’s going to be to play in – and watch – the Viera offense do its thing.
“Oh yeah, it’s going to be a bunch of yards, a bunch of touchdowns,” Gentile said.
Trailing 7-0 after Heritage broke off a 75-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, the Hawks tied things up when Cromartie found another rising sophomore – Zack Pillow – for a 34-yard touchdown pass.
A big stop by Viera’s defense on fourth-and-six from the Viera 7 set up the Hawks deep in their own territory. Cromartie’s pass was then tipped right into the hands of Gentile, who took the ball to midfield. Several plays later, Cromartie found a wide-open Gentile down the left side for a 35-yard touchdown.
“I was looking around and I was like, ‘That’s a pretty high ball. There better not be anyone around me,’” said Gentile, who was surprised at just how wide open he was.
Viera’s third touchdown of the night was set up by Gillins, who had a 35-yard reception followed by a nine-yard grab on the next play. Eventually, Cromartie hit Gentile over the middle and the receiver took the ball in from 26 yards.
With Heritage leading 28-21 after three quarters, both teams put in some of their backup players and the remainder of the game was played with a running clock.
Viera got the ball last and called for a few quarterback runs with Gentile in the backfield. The Hawks would get the ball down to the Heritage 14-yard line, and then Gentile hit Schmidt in the corner of the end zone.
“Coach Shane said, ‘Look this way, look this way’ … I faked a hitch and threw the corner up top to Mikey and he made a great play,” Gentile said.
If that’s what the Hawks offense can do in a spring game, it will be very interesting to see what Viera is able to do when it really matters.
“It’s fun,” Staples said. “We’ve got a lot more in the playbook. We didn’t run many different plays tonight. I’m excited to get to the regular season.”
Staples, Gentile and Keith all agreed what the young Hawks need to do between now and then is spend a lot of time in the weight room.
“We’ve just got to get stronger,” Staples said. “I think that showed tonight. Defensively, for sure with those younger guys, we’ve got to hit the weight room.
“They’re going to go in there and they’re going to work. They know. This is a good group of guys. I’m excited. I’m excited for the fall.”