Viera uses big first half to dominate Sunlake in Class 7A playoff opener

Viera High's Connor Nelson (right) and Nolan Helton combine to tackle Sunlake quarterback Kevin Spillane during Friday night's Class 7A playoff game. The Hawks won the game 35-0 to advance to the regional quarterfinals this week on the road against Lyman.

LAND O’ LAKES – The Hawks got a little bit of their mojo back, and Zak Sedaros put his name next to one of the greatest players to ever put on a Viera uniform.

That’s how dominating the Hawks were in their postseason opener Friday night at Sunlake High School in Land O’ Lakes.

Viera scored 14 points before the defense even took a snap and the Hawks rolled to a 35-0 victory over the host Seahawks in a play-in game for the 2020 Class 7A playoffs.

The Hawks (4-3) are scheduled to play Lyman High School (2-7) in Longwood this Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the regional quarterfinals.

“We did what we were supposed to do (tonight),” Viera coach Derek Smith said after the win at Sunlake.

“The first half, for the most part, I thought we executed very good.”

Viera scored all five of its touchdowns in the first half, including the opening stretch where the Hawks scored on their initial drive, recovered an onside kick and then scored again to put the Seahawks in a two-touchdown hole before their offense ever took the field.

With Viera leading 35-0 after the first two quarters, the second half was played with a running clock. 

It was just the kind of performance the Hawks needed coming off of three straight regular-season losses.

“It’s definitely good to come in here and get a win,” Sedaros said. “Definitely, getting a running clock in the first half was good, just to get the confidence going. Now, we’ve just got to keep it going.”

Junior quarterback C.J. Simms completed 13 of 20 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for the Hawks.

One of those touchdowns went to senior Caleb Osburn from nine yards out. The other was a four-yard throw to senior Aidan Davis.

Sedaros, who caught four passes for 135 yards, also had two carries for six yards, including a two-yard TD run.

Sophomore Cohen Graham-Johnson was the leading runner for Viera with 92 yards on eight carries. He scored from two yards out to put the Hawks up 28-0 at the time.

Simms also scored on an 11-yard touchdown run that saw him lower his shoulder and put a big hit on a Sunlake defender as he forced his way into the end zone.

Freshman Juda Knight, making his varsity debut, ran for 68 yards on eight carries and was impressive for both his patience and his ability to break off some nice runs.

The Hawks could not put together another scoring drive in the second half, but it ultimately didn’t matter because the game was out of reach.

“I think we executed well in the first half,” Sedaros said. “We got a little sloppy in the second half. I wish we could have done better but it’s tougher to get your momentum going when it’s a running clock.

“Overall, I think we played well. We’re going to have to clean up stuff. We had a couple of bad snaps that you can’t have. That will cost you in big games. We’ve got to fix that.”

While the offense was churning out points in the first half, the Viera defense was trying out something new.

While Smith’s teams play predominantly zone coverage, Viera defensive coordinator Ken Reda went to a man-to-man scheme against Sunlake that also included defensive end Tyler Cooley spending time at linebacker.

“We wanted to run some man this week,” Smith said. “When we get deep into the playoffs, we have to be able to mix in a little bit of man coverage. So, our goal was this week and next week to practice the man coverage in order to get our team better.

“I think for the most part we did well. On a sloppy field, occasionally a DBs is going to lose contact with the man that he’s covering, and a couple of times (tonight) we lost contact. They’re quarterback’s a very athletic kid, made some of what I like to call peek-a-boo plays, those Houdini plays where he got away a few times. But overall, we executed well on defense, and I think we executed well on offense.”

Cooley could be heard yelling to the sideline at one point during Friday’s game that he liked getting the chance to play linebacker. But with Austin Smith expected back from injury this week, Cooley will be back at defensive end against Lyman.

Linebacker Johnny Eaton led the Viera defense with 10 tackles. He also had a sack. Andreas Foreman and Connor Nelson had two sacks for Viera.

Nolan Helton had an interception, as did Sedaros.

It was the 14th career pick for Sedaros, tying the senior with Jay Boyd for the program’s all-time mark. Sedaros said Smith told him at the team’s walk through on Thursday that he was one shy of tying the record.

“It’s very humbling for me,” Sedaros said of tying Boyd’s mark. “My goal was always to be one of the greats to come out of Viera.

“Jay Boyd is obviously someone I look up to. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever seen. To tie his record … it’s nice to see.”