MELBOURNE – It wasn’t hard to sum up where the Viera Hawks went wrong in their game against the host Melbourne Bulldogs Friday night.
“Turnovers,” Viera coach Shane Staples said.
Six of them, to be exact.
Despite playing the Bulldogs tough early on, the Hawks unraveled under lights at Tom McIntyre Stadium and dropped their Class 4S, District 11 matchup, 49-7.
“Turnovers. We had missed assignments,” Staples said. “The first half, I feel like we moved the ball up and down the field … and just turned the ball over.
“We’re just not good enough to get by 21 and then have to pass the ball to try to get back in it. The defense knows your passing. It’s hard to do that.”
Viera took the opening kickoff and drove to the Melbourne 32 before a hit off the hands of a receiver and was picked off by the Bulldogs defense.
The Hawks would return the favor as Reece Reynolds intercepted a pass to set Viera up at the Melbourne 30. Wide receiver Quincy Gillins was wide open for what would have been an easy touchdown, but Viera couldn’t make the connection and eventually turned it over on downs.
Melbourne would go in for a touchdown and then, following a Viera fumble, scored again on a pass in the back of the end zone that was disputed by the Hawks, who felt the receiver was out of bounds.
The Bulldogs looked like they were going to go up 21-0 when the Viera defense came up big again, forcing a fumble that was recovered by sophomore defensive end Isaac Hungerbuhler.
Hungerbuhler raced up the sideline for a 92-yard touchdown that cut Melbourne’s lead in half at 14-7 and gave the Hawks plenty of momentum.
But as has been the case all season, the Hawks couldn’t sustain that momentum.
Melbourne returned the kickoff to the Viera 40 and scored again with 48 seconds left in the half to make it 21-7.
The game simply fell apart for the Hawks in the second half, despite an interception by Viera’s Seth Hufty.
Viera’s offense constantly found itself in second-and-long and third-and-long situations, which is a tough hole to climb out from, especially when – as Staples said -- the defense knows you have to throw it.
In addition to the turnovers, Viera had two bad snaps on punts – one of which Yordan Torres was able to turn into a first down – and another fake punt deep in its own territory that was not converted.
Melbourne (7-2) dominated the rest of the way and then celebrated its second straight district championship.
Viera got a couple of nice runs from Judah Knight, but quarterback Dominick Gentile – playing in place of injured sophomore Chase Cromartie – rarely had time to throw and the offense got bogged down in the second half.
“It makes a difference,” Staples said of not having his starting quarterback. “We’ve been playing a bunch of guys out of position, trying to make do.
“These guys are fighting. It’s not effort.”
Viera will close out the season next Friday at home against Merritt Island (5-4) on what will be Senior Night for the Hawks.
“It’s like I told them, the younger guys owe it to the seniors to come out and fight,” Staples said. “It’s a good learning experience for the younger guys. Some younger guys are getting to play.
“And the seniors … for a lot of them, it’s their last football game ever. They should leave it all out there. We’ll see how it goes.”