On a night when the Viera Hawks faced more adversity than most teams have any business overcoming, Jared Perdomo lined up for a 29-yard field goal attempt that would potentially put his team in the lead for the first time in the game.
“I was a little nervous in the beginning, I’m not going to lie,” Viera’s senior kicker said. “I knew I could make it, though. We were close, like an extra point. I just had to go through it. Can’t change anything else.”
Perdomo’s kick sailed through the uprights to give Viera a 28-25 lead over visiting Eau Gallie with 51.5 seconds remaining.
But the way this night was going, it was obvious the drama was far from over.
Aided by a quick passing game and … of course … a late pass interference call on Viera, the Commodores worked their way down the field and had a 35-yard field goal try with 3.6 seconds remaining.
The kick went wide left and finally, the Hawks could celebrate a 28-25 non-district win over the Commodores Friday night at Hawk Stadium.
It was the third straight win for Viera (3-1), which had to overcome:
* A young, but competitive Eau Gallie team that gave the Hawks all they could handle.
* 11 personal foul penalties, some of which were highly questionable.
* Defensive lapses in the secondary that led to two early Eau Gallie touchdowns.
* A second half injury to standout linebacker Johnny Eaton on what the Hawks felt was a blatantly illegal hit.
* Two turnovers, one that led to an Eau Gallie touchdown.
* Two successful onside kicks and a fake punt by the Commodores.
“Understatement for adversity tonight,” Viera coach Derek Smith said. “I have a young secondary. Our secondary works their butt off. They work as hard as anybody on the football team. They make mistakes. It’s our job to overcome mistakes as a team.
“We’ve got to continue to grind. We’ve got to continue to rely on team, not just individualism. We’ve got four receivers for a reason. We’ve got a tailback for a reason. (Quarterback) C.J. (Simms) puts the ball in their hands, they make big things happen.
“The defensive line has got to make big plays in big situations. And sometimes, you’ve got to battle the elements. I’m not going to sugar coat it. We had some elements we were battling tonight. I don’t agree with a lot of the calls. They can say Coach Smith’s being critical, but there’s film for a reason.”
The Hawks didn’t do themselves any favors by getting off to a slow start offensively, as they have done in all five games – including the Kickoff Classic – they’ve played this season.
Defensively, Viera four-star recruit Jamari Lyons made a tackle on a running play by pushing an Eau Gallie offensive lineman backward into the runner. Lyons and Cameron Wright also did a good job of getting their hands up to bat down several passes.
However, the Commodores were able to hurt the Hawks with by hitting a number of quick passes, including two slant passes underneath that went for touchdowns. Both PAT attempts were no good and the Commodores (2-3) led 12-0 after the first quarter.
Viera would finally start to show some signs of life on offense when Simms hit Cohen Graham-Johnson with a 16-yard touchdown pass and Perdomo connected on a 31-yard field goal to make it 12-10.
But back came Eau Gallie, aided by a personal foul on Viera, to score again with 7:08 remaining in the half. Once again, the PAT missed and it was 18-10. The Commodores had a chance to add to the lead late just before halftime when, once again, personal fouls on Viera helped put them in field goal range. But the field goal was no good and the Hawks trailed by eight at the half.
After seeing Eau Gallie’s quick passing game have success in the first half, the Hawks made a personnel change in the second half, bringing in an extra defensive back to line up on the opposite side of senior linebacker Austin Smith, who excels in coverage, and making things harder on the Commodores to connect.
Sophomore defensive back Terrance Latner came up with several big plays for Viera, Connor Nelson came up with a sack and Austin Smith made a nice dive to bat down a pass on a slant over the middle.
“In the first half, we didn’t really have the intensity we needed,” Austin Smith said. “We were doing our job and all, but it just wasn’t there fully. In the second half, we were there. We had an injury to Johnny – which sucks – but we stopped them multiple times on fourth down (even) with all these penalties.”
Still, Viera’s offense needed a spark.
And the Hawks got it when Simms connected on a long pass to Quincy Gillins down to the Eau Gallie 12 and then hit Donovan Giles over the middle for a touchdown pass. Viera went for the 2-point conversion and Simms hit Giles again to tie the game up at 18-18.
However, just when it looked like the Hawks had finally claimed the momentum, Eau Gallie’s defense came up with a huge play, forcing a Viera fumble and returning it for a touchdown. This time, the extra-point by Eau Gallie was good and it was 25-18 Commodores going into the fourth quarter.
Every time it seemed like the Hawks had gained some ground on the Commodores, they would slip back down the mountain again.
However, just when it looked like this wouldn’t be Viera’s night for the 20th time or so, Simms connected with Giles again, hitting the receiver in stride. Giles took care of the rest, outrunning the Eau Gallie defense for a 55-yard game-tying score. It was Giles’ second TD catch of the game.
“Two slant routes, wide open,” Giles said. “I got the ball and just scored. … Big players have to make big plays. You have to show up at crunch time.”
With just over two minutes to go, it was Graham-Johnson’s turn to come up with the big play. The junior caught a short pass, broke a tackle and turned it into a 37-yard gain down to the Eau Gallie 16 to eventually set up Perdomo’s game-winning field goal try.
As many obstacles as the Hawks faced Friday night, the fact that they were able to overcome them and still get the win said a lot.
“Over a hundred yards in (personal) fouls. But hey, we came back and did our jobs,” Austin Smith said. “Happy about it.”
It was a big night for Austin Smith, who played in his first game since tearing his ACL while playing lacrosse last February. The senior linebacker said he felt “great” and “fresh” to be back on the field again.
Asked if there was a moment where he truly felt like he was back, the senior said:
“I guess (it was) the dive to bat down the ball on the deep slant. That felt great to do. I feel so healthy right now. I love it.”
Coach Smith, meanwhile, can finally breathe again after seeing his son get through the game.
“I was really nervous before this game,” Derek Smith said. “I’m not nervous as a coach. I haven’t been and I’ve been through a lot of battles. I’ve been in state championship games. I’ve never had butterflies before a game.
“I was so nervous for this game. Dad didn’t want to see his son come back and get hurt. The butterflies are gone now.”