STUART – The Viera Hawks certainly made their share of big plays this season.
Heck, they even made a couple of them Friday night in their Class 6A regional quarterfinal against the host Martin County Tigers.
But on a night when the offense struggled throughout the game, the Hawks simply didn’t do enough to keep their season going … and the Tigers did.
Trailing by a point at the half after a late surge by Viera, Martin County pulled away from the Hawks in the second half, winning Friday night’s opening round playoff game 26-15 and ending Viera’s season.
“This one stinks,” Viera coach Derek Smith said. “You’ve got to make big plays. The bottom line is, the team that makes the most big plays is the team that’s going to advance. They made big plays in the second half.
“It was 15-14 going into halftime. They had a couple of players step up and make phenomenal plays at the right time. They deserved to win.”
Viera (5-5), which battled injury issues all season long, had them again on Friday. While the defense finally had all 11 starters on the field at the same time for the first time this season, the Hawks were down two starters on the offensive line.
That didn’t bode well for the running game, which was never really established, though Cameron Mills did break off a couple of nice runs.
The passing game was where Viera really struggled. The Hawks missed open receivers and some passes were dropped.
Against a Martin County team (9-0) that had speed and playmakers on its side, that wasn’t a good combination for Viera.
The Tigers got on the board with touchdown runs of 63 and 4 yards to take a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Viera had two promising drives, one that included a run for a first down on a fake punt by Connor Yancey, who was filling in for Jared Perdomo. However, one possession ended in a punt, the other in an interception.
The Hawks desperately needed a spark … and they got one.
With the Tigers backed up on their own side of the field, senior Johnny Eaton broke through and blocked a punt. The ball was recovered at the Martin County 5-yard line and on the next play, Viera quarterback C.J. Simms ran it in for a touchdown and Perdomo hit the extra point to cut the lead in half with six minutes to go in the second quarter.
A penalty on Martin County on the kickoff meant the Tigers started their next drive at their own 7 and once again, Viera’s defense came up big.
The Hawks stopped a running play for a three-yard loss and then senior Jamari Lyons, a University of Florida commit, sacked Martin County quarterback Jaxon Scott in the end zone for a safety to make it 14-9.
With the momentum now strongly on their side, the Hawks took the ensuing kickoff and put together a drive that culminated with a two-yard touchdown run by Simms with 1:13 to play in the half.
Viera would go for a 2-point conversion, but couldn’t convert.
Still, the Hawks went into halftime with all the momentum, a one-point lead, and knowing they would get the ball to start the second half.
Viera threw deep on its first play and had a receiver open down the middle of the field, but couldn’t connect and the Hawks eventually punted.
Martin County got the ball, drove down the field and kicked a 32-yard field goal to take back the lead.
The Tigers would score again on an incredible reception by a wide receiver who caught the ball after it was tipped in the air by a Viera defensive back.
Any chance Viera had of a comeback ended midway through the fourth quarter when Simms scrambled and appeared to hurt his hamstring. He was replaced by junior Dominick Gentile and freshman Chase Cromartie came in to throw one pass, but the Hawks couldn’t get anything going and the clock ran out on them.
It was the final game in a Viera uniform for seniors Lyons; Eaton; Simms; Yancey; Perdomo; Austin Smith; Cameron Wright; Donovan Giles; Connor Nelson; A.J. Toney; Jack Hathaway; A.J. Floyd; Jake Woodruff; Kyle Bortz; Tommy Collins; David Parker; Andrew Mertins; Devin Giles and Yorgen Torres.
They certainly left their mark on the Viera program.
As the clock wound down, Yancey came over and gave Viera secondary coach DeMarkulus Menyfield a hug. Several players hugged Smith after the team’s final postgame meeting of the season.
“I grew up with this senior class. I love them all,” Derek Smith said as Eaton came in for a hug.
“This guy right here, I coached against him when he was 6 or 7 and I coached him when he was 9-10.
“I love a guy like that.”