MERRITT ISLAND – The fate of the Viera Hawks season is no long in their hands.
The Hawks had a chance to all but clinch a spot in the Class 7A playoffs in their final regular-season game if they could beat a very good Merritt Island team on the road Friday night, but it slipped through their fingers on this soggy night … not just once, but a number of times.
There were dropped passes. There was the punt snap that sailed out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Two more bad snaps on extra points that cost the Hawks points.
But the ultimate dagger came with just over four minutes to play when the Hawks scored a touchdown to pull within one point of the Mustangs with the extra point to come.
This time, the snap was good, but a Merritt Island player was able to get through Viera’s blocking just enough to deflect the kick’s path and send it into the upright, the sound of the ball clanging to the ground symbolic of a night of missed opportunities.
Viera’s 19-18 loss to the Mustangs means the Hawks (5-4) will have to wait until Sunday morning to find out if they’re going to be in the postseason for the eighth straight season.
It’s going to come down to where they rank in the FHSAA’s RPI system, which factors winning percentages and strength of schedule – not just of your team, but the teams you played.
It’s still very likely the Hawks will get into the postseason. They were ranked No. 6 in RPI in Class 7A, Region 2 heading into Friday night and their opponents have a combined record of 54-31 heading into tonight’s slate of games.
But it’s no longer the slam dunk it would have been if the Hawks won Friday night, or obviously, last week against Melbourne with the district title on line where a victory would have meant an opening-round home game.
“It’s up to the computers now,” Viera coach Derek Smith said. “We have to complete all tasks. We can’t leave things in anybody’s hands.
“Two bad snaps on extra points. A missed extra point. A bad snap on a punt. Three dropped footballs on a (crucial) drive. A fumble …
“We are our own worst enemy. It is not the teams we play. It is us. Once this learns to stop the stupid mistakes, will be fine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way next week. Make the stupid mistakes next week, we have one game and we’re done – if we even make it to next week.”
The Hawks certainly looked like a team playing for its playoff life on the opening drive Friday night, going on a 78-yard drive that ended with a pass from C.J. Simms to Cameron Mills, who took it in for a 32-yard touchdown.
But after a bad snap on the PAT, the Hawks lead remained at 6-0.
Viera had a chance to make it a two-score game, but couldn’t convert on fourth-and-goal from the Merritt Island 8-yard line and turned it over on downs.
The Mustangs, who dominated Rockledge to clinch the district title two weeks ago, then put together a scoring drive that culminated in a five-yard touchdown pass.
Brady Denaburg would kick the PAT and as a heavy rain began falling, the Mustangs were up 7-6.
Viera would come back to take the lead on a four-yard run by Simms, but once again the snap was bad. Kicker Jared Perdomo picked the ball up and tried to run into the end zone for what would have been a two-point conversion, like he did against Harmony, but the Mustangs stopped him short and it was 12-7.
In nearly every loss Viera has had this season, there has been about a 10-minute stretch where things have gone horribly wrong for the Hawks … and that moment was about to come.
Denaburg hit a 47-yard field goal to cut Viera’s lead to 12-10. On the ensuing drive, the Hawks gave up a sack and dropped two passes, forcing them to have to punt from deep in their own territory. The snap got away and went out of the end zone and the game was tied 12-12.
Viera had a chance to take the lead just before the end of the first half, but a fumble gave the ball back to the Mustangs at their own 45-yard line with 2:24 left in the half. And with 31 seconds remaining, Merritt Island cashed in as Denaburg bought some time in the pocket and then threw a deep pass for a touchdown.
That put the Mustangs up 19-12 going into the second half and set up what would be a tough second half for Viera.
Neither team was able to generate much offense in the third and fourth quarters as both defenses stepped up their play. Merritt Island, which intercepted a deep throw by the Hawks, missed a long field goal try.
With the clock winding down in the fourth quarter, the Hawks were able to put something together. Simms hit Donovan Giles for a long pass down to the Merritt Island 30 and eventually connected with the senior wide receiver for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 4:15 remaining.
The Hawks thought about going for two, but decided to go for the game-tying PAT, which was partially blocked and hit off the upright.
Viera tried to execute an onside kick, but the well-coached Mustangs were ready for it and recovered around midfield. Merritt Island would eventually try another long field goal that was wide and Viera took over at its own 20 with 1:26 remaining.
The Hawks had a receiver wide open on their first two plays, but not enough time to get him the ball and the game eventually ended on a sack by the Merritt Island defense.
And now the wait begins.