‘Alan’s Scouting Report’ Breaks Down Tonight’s 7A State Title St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Viera
By Alan Zlotorzynski // December 11, 2015
7 p.m. At the Citrus Bowl In Orlando
ABOVE VIDEO: Friday night locker room’s Steve Wilson, Orville Susong, Alan Zlotorzynski and Zach Clark break down Viera’s matchup with St. Thomas Aquinas Friday night in the Citrus Bowl.
CLASS 7A STATE FINAL
St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders vs. Viera Hawks
Road here: Viera d. Harmony, 38-6; d. Martin County, 47-17; d. Lakeland, 24-14; d. Columbia 42-23
Road here: St. Thomas d. Royal Palm Beach, 29-0; d. Dwyer, 24-7; d. Master Academy Charter, 60-7; d. Braden River, 27-10
Notable Wins This Season:
Viera: Merritt Island Mustangs (28-14); Lakeland Dreadnaughts (24-14); Columbia Tigers (42-23)
St. Thomas: Booker T Washington (2015 Class 4A State Champ) ( 35-3); Ft. Lauderdale (41-13); Flanagan (19-14)
Losses This Season
Viera: Allen Texas (56-20); Kathleen (29-25); Cocoa Tigers (49-42); Palm Bay (40-35)
St. Thomas: Deerfield Beach (6-3)
Viera: Kevin Mays 28-20 (5 seasons), Career: Same
St. Thomas: Roger Harriott 8-1 (first year), Career: 85-16 (9 seasons)
Players to Watch: Viera
WR: Tre Nixon 7A Player of Year, Colleges All, 63 Catches for 1087 yards 13 TDs
QB: Hayden Kingston 1st Team CCC and FACA 3520 yards Passing FAMU Bethal
WR: Alex Cabrera 1st Team CCC and FACA 56 Catches for 1032 UT-Martin Ark State
ATH: Jay Boyd 1st Team CCC and FACA 7 INT FAMU
LB: Brandon Mays 1st Team CCC and FACA 140 Tackles Columbia
DE: Marco Foreman 1st Team CCC and FACA 17 Sacs Princeton
ATH: Trevor Merritt 1st Team CCC and FACA 75 Tackles Mercer Bethune
Tre Nixon, Hayden Kingston, Trevor Merritt, Jay Boyd
Players to Watch St. Thomas:
Michael Irvin and Sam Bruce committed to Miami
Irvin is the son of former Dallas Cowboy and Hall of Fame WR Michael
Bruce is the nephew of former St. Louis Rams receiving great, Isaac Bruce.
Frank Coppet committed to Vanderbilt
Dominic Thieman and James McCourt committed to Illinois
James Charles committed to FAU
Arjay Jean committed to Fordham
Michael Iamunno committed to Richmond
Nick Bosa, James Charles, Frank Coppet, Devontae Henry-Cole, James McCourt, Nicholas Plunkett, Colin Nace
ABOVE VIDEO: Viera Head Coach Kevin Mays speaks to Space Coast Daily on the eve of the State Championship matchup with St. Thomas Aquinas.
When Viera Has the Ball:
The Viera Hawks enter the Class 7A State Championship game with one of the most prolific offenses in the state. Led by Senior QB Hayden Kingston and Class 7A player of the year, WR Tre Nixon, the Hawks scored 514 points this season. Including the playoffs, Kingston enters the contest on top of the leader board in the state of Florida with 3,749 passing yards, 42 passing TD’s and only nine interceptions this season.
Tre Nixon isn’t the only pass catching threat the Hawks boast. Satellite High transfer Alex Cabrera teamed with Nixon to haul in a combined 137 passes and 32 touchdowns. The duo averaged 17 yards per reception in 2015.
The backfield of the Hawks was slow to get moving this season but has picked up steam as the season progressed.
Junior RB Brennan DePlancke rushed for 804 yards and scored nine TD’s while Trevor Merritt, who plays on the defensive side as well, chipped in with 147 rushing yards and three TD’s.
ABOVE VIDEO: Viera’s football held a Pep Rally Thursday at Viera High School.
When the play breaks down, QB Hayden Kingston is not shy about tucking the ball and grabbing a few yards. The Senior signal caller had 281 rushing yards and five rushing TD’s on the season.
Up front, the Hawks have one senior (Hunter Ulrich) and four juniors protecting the offense. At six-feet- one and 236 pounds, the average size of the Hawks line may not jump out at you but their speed off the ball is impressive and their blocking technique is as crisp as any team playing. Offensive Line coach Ryan Allen has done a fine job with a unit that was banged up pretty bad at one-point season but has recovered to protect Kingston fairly well in the playoffs.
Viera likes to spread out it’s defensive opponent and work fast. They run the no-huddle with efficiency and with a great deal of success. The unit ran 743 plays this season and Kingston has the weapons to beat a defense deep on any play.
Nixon and Cabrera have each scored beyond the 50 on several occasions in 2015, with TD catches of 73 and 64 yards respectively.
ABOVE VIDEO: More footage from Viera’s pep rally on Thursday.
The Hawks will need to run the football, to some degree, the Raiders are too good on defense for the Hawks to play a one dimensional game. DePlancke is a tough hardnosed runner that wears down defensive fronts on long scoring drives and deep into games.
Athletes Trevor Merritt and Jay Boyd, provide a change of pace from DePlancke. Merritt and Boyd both possess speed with quickness and solid footwork and can score from anywhere on the field when running with the ball.
ABOVE VIDEO: Trevor Merritt and Jay Boyd At Viera Hawks Pep Rally.
The Raiders defense is the best defensive unit the Hawks have faced since traveling to Texas back in September and taking on the now No.3 nationally ranked (USA Today Super 25) Allen Eagles. The Hawks managed to put 20 points on the Eagles defense, third best during the regular season but still lost 56-20. In a recent interview with Alan Zlotorzynski, Head Coach Kevin Mays pointed to the Allen game as a reason the Hawks feel confident.
“18,000 fans were as big as it gets and I’m don’t think tomorrow (today) is going to be much different in Orlando. Mays continued, “our players have seen that type of speed and toughness and while we didn’t win the battle, playing in this games gives us a chance to win the war”.
The Aquinas defense allowed just 11.5 points this season and totaled 33 sacks and 15 interceptions this year. St. Thomas makes offenses work for every yard holding opponents to a combined 31 percent conversion rate on third and fourth down this season.
To get to this point has not been as easy as the Raiders have been used to in recent years. Aquinas has overcome a lot of key injuries, hard fought close contests and the expectations that come with being St. Thomas Aquinas.
Twelve of the 33 sacks this season were registered by players not playing in this game. DE Nick Bosa, considered to be the best all-around defensive high school prospect in the nation, is out tonight. However, there are players that are more than capable of taking up the slack for the Raiders defense.
Linebacker Drew White, who is the brother of Auburn QB Sean White and has received offers from schools like Ohio State & Michigan, posted 59 tackles, 12.5 for a loss and three sacks this season. In the secondary, the Raiders are quick and physical.
Led by Senior DB Frank Coppet, a Vanderbilt commit, the Raiders picked off 13 passes this season. Also in the secondary is the son of former New England Patriots & Philadelphia Eagles CB, Asante Samuel Sr—-Asante Samuel Jr.
ABOVE VIDEO: Garrett Lamp President of the Viera Hawks Quarterback Club speaks with Space Coast Daily about the State Championship and the Quarterback Club.
Even without Bosa, the Raiders defensive line is big and fast. In place of Bosa, senior defensive tackle Colin Nance and Nikolas Bonitto have steadied a dominant defensive line, as have Tyler Dunning & Kivon Bennett. The line averages six feet two inches and 240 pounds. Bonitto, (6-foot-3, 210) just a sophomore, led the Raiders with a team high six sacks while Nace (6-3, 265), a senior, had five this season.
Like last week, the Hawks will enter this contest playing with house money so to speak. Head Coach Kevin Mays is sure to pull out all of the stops, allowing Kingston to look for his two speedy and sure handed receivers early and often. If the Raiders secondary slows the combination of Nixon & Cabrera, Kingston proved last week he’ll look for other options.
Ten different Hawks have caught a pass from the senior this season. Pass catchers Don Jackson & Quinton Richardson as well as the athletic Jay Boyd have combined for 90 catches, 971 yards and seven touchdowns on the season.
— Kevin Mays (@Bigcoachmays) December 11, 2015
Last week in their state semifinal matchup vs. and undefeated Braden River squad, St. Thomas forced three critical turnovers that stopped promising drives for the Pirates and they also sacked senior QB Jacob Huesman four times. The Hawks must protect the ball and adjust. Despite taking a 14-7 lead a few weeks back vs the Lakeland Dreadnaughts, Hayden Kingston was blitzed early and often and was forced to pick himself off the turf of Viera Hawks Stadium more than he cared to. Expect much of the same early on in this one.
The Raiders will try to confuse the Viera offense with several blitz packages but as Mays’ offense did a few weeks back, the Hawks will adjust to the speed of St. Thomas’ front seven and begin to make plays over the top and underneath, allowing them to put points on the board at the Citrus Bowl.
When St. Thomas Has the Ball:
For St. Tomas, the injury bug wasn’t limited to just the defense this season. Early on this season, senior RB and Utah commit, Devontae Henry-Cole, was lost to injury and Florida Commit, QB Jake Allen missed three games with a lower back issue. What, Coach Harriott worry—not with the depth on this roster.
Stepping up for the Raiders in the backfield was fellow senior running backs Jaxson Kincaide and James Charles. Kincaide averaged 8.1 yards per carry while turning out 1,201 rushing yards and 10 TD’s. Charles chipped in with an additional 590 yards and nine TD’s.
The duo runs behind an offensive line that dominates defensive fronts. Led by senior center, Louie Berkowitz, (6’2”- 290 Lbs.) St. Thomas averages 6’2” and nearly 270 pounds of bulk on the O-line.
They allowed just eight sacks of Aquinas signal callers in 2015. The Raiders have NFL pedigree at wideout in Michael Irvin II (son of the playmaker, Michael Irvin HOF WR, Dallas Cowboys) & Sam Bruce, nephew of Isaac Bruce, former Rams WR who should get into the NFL HOF one day.
Irvin caught 26 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns this season while Bruce led the team in receptions with 41. Bruce converted those passes into 366 yards and three TD’s. The duo of Dominic Thieman and Trevon Grimes combined to haul in 57 passes for 909 yards and 12 TD’s.
QB Jake Allen, who will apparently be a part of the logjam QB situation in Gainesville in 2017, is as precise with the ball as any QB throwing one. The junior transfer from Cardinal Gibbons HS, passed for 1,539 yards, 17 TD’s and just four interceptions. Allen completed 62 percent of his passes this season.
ABOVE VIDEO: Highlights and interviews following Viera’s victory in the state Regional Ginal. The Viera Hawks defeated Lakeland 24-14 Friday night to win the FHSAA Class 7A Regional Finals.
Last week, Allen, in his third start coming off his lower back injury, finished with 208 yards on 15-of-21 passing and two touchdowns against one interception. The stats aren’t overwhelming to look at on an individual basis but this is a team that may be the perfect definition of not doing one thing great just doing everything really really well. They do pile up from a team perspective.
The Raiders outscored their opponents by nearly 300 points this season. St. Thomas may not be a sup tempo as Viera but they outscored their opponents 306-76 in the first half this season and 135-33 in the first quarter alone. Viera will not have time to get over butterflies and nervousness.
St. Thomas can score as quick as the Hawks. Defensively the Hawks must not break. They have bent over the past two weeks vs. Lakeland and Columbia but have stiffened at the right time, got after the passer and forced turnovers at key moments.
— Eddie Mayes Jr (@EJ_Mayes) December 11, 2015
Led by several players, the Hawks picked off Columbia QB Davin Schuck four times last Friday night and had him running for his football life for most of the game, sacking him five times. They say speed kills in football and Viera has it and uses it to their advantage when playing on defense. Viera averaged six sacks per game this season, taking down opposing signal callers an amazing 86 times in 2015. Up front the Hawks are led by DE Marco Foreman. The junior led Viera with 19 sacks this season.
For all of the talk about the depth of the Raiders, the Hawks are pretty deep when it comes to their front seven rotation. Aside from Forman, Matt Martorelli (83 tackles-11 sacks), Brandon Mays (151 tackles- 12 sacks), Miguel Rodriguez (70 tackles-11 sacks) Riley Morris (15 tackles last week vs Columbia) & Justin Harrison use their speed to keep offenses at bay.
Senior playmaker Jay Boyd leads the Hawks secondary with nine interceptions on the season, including two in last week’s state semifinal, The Hawks are responsible for 22 thefts of opposing QB’s this season. Along with Boyd, Trevor Merritt and Malek Folston have collected two and four picks respectively and have the ability to play man to man coverage for 48 minutes, effectively shutting down the oppositions top pass catchers for brutal stretches of games.
Viera can run with St. Thomas’ playmakers and their speed upfront has proven to be more effective in the playoffs than the beef and brawn of Lakeland and Columbia’s offensive lines. In high school football, speed more times than not, will trump size and strength.
Columbia Tigers’ QB Davin Schuck was one of the premier passers in the state of Florida and Viera did a nice job of keeping him in check and shutting down a WR corps that had four players with 30 or more catches and six or more TD’s on the season.
Viera Hawks soccer goalie Max Pacheaco handles punting and kicking duties and when he does punt, just 17 times all season, he averages nearly 42 yards, flipping the field on many occasions. Place Kicker Trey Scaneville was 6/7 this season with his longest field goal measuring 32 yards. Jay Boyd handles punt and kick return duties averaging 30 yards per return on punts and 26 on kickoffs.
The Raiders have struggled a bit on punts this season as James McCourt and Alexander Berry have averaged just 36 yards per punt. However, as the Raiders field goal kicker, McCourt is an impressive 12 of 15 with a long of 49 yards this season. Bruce & Asante Samuel Jr. handle punt and kick returns with Bruce averaging nearly 32 yards per return on kickoffs.
With as much speed as both teams possess, either is a threat to return a punt or kick in this game. I like the Hawks in the punting game but the Raiders when it comes to kicking for three points.
The underlying theme for the Viera Hawks this playoff season has been the “New Kids on the Block” vs. the tradition rich football powerhouses. Yes, the Raiders are supposed to be more talented, yes they have NFL pedigree and the combined 38 state and district championships but the Viera Hawks & the Viera football program is celebrating a coming out party this fall.
Traditions and powerhouses aren’t just born overnight, they are developed and this new powerhouse in Viera Florida has been developing for 10 years now.
From the youth program to JV and now to the Citrus Bowl, many members of this Hawks team have been playing together since the guys were eight, nine and 10 years old.
For St. Thomas, quarterback Jake Allen (Cardinal Gibbons), center Louie Berkowitz (American Heritage), running back James Charles (Coconut Creek), defensive end Nikolas Bonitto (University School) and Michael Irvin Jr, all transferred in to the school this season.
While I believe in destiny and the philosophy of things are meant to happen, I also believe in what the Hawks have built this season.
Head Coach Kevin Mays says in the end it’s just 16, 17 & 18-year-old kids lining up to play football and because of that reason anything can happen. I believe that too and I also believe in what the Viera program is building and producing on their football fields and while this Hawks team may be the new kids on the block, they certainly have the right stuff (pun intended) to finish off a run that not many thought was possible. I like the 16, 17 & 18 year olds of Viera High to bring home the 14th FHSAA State Championship trophy for football in Brevard County tonight.
Viera 38 St. Thomas 34
About the Author
Alan Zlotorzynski hosts Mouthin Off Sports Talk on AM 1060 WMEL Wednesday from 11-12 p.m., Friday 11-12 p.m. and Saturday 2-4 p.m. He is also a member of the Friday Night Locker Room play-by-play crew providing color and analysis for high school sports. Follow Alan on Twitter @zlotsports.