When Space Coast led Merritt Island by a touchdown with 3:36 to play in the third quarter last Sept. 18 in Port St. John, it appeared the District 14-5A race might not go the way most high school football fans in Brevard County had expected.
The Vipers were playing the physical brand of football they set out to play, and the district standings were on the verge of being scrambled. But it didn’t end that way. Merritt Island rebounded, and Space Coast missed an opportunity.
Six weeks later, the Vipers were home again, this time against rival Titusville in another district game. It went double overtime, and the Terriers went home with the win.
Since last season, head coach Jake Owens has been stressing something to his players.
“We’ve got to finish. We’ve got to finish games,” he said. “We really had the (Merritt Island) game under control. We didn’t finish that game.”
When Owens took receiver Jason Browning to a television interview recently and his senior receiver was asked about the team’s emphasis for 2016, the coach knew his message had gotten through.
“We’ve got to finish,” Browning said.
The question now is how does a team make that happen. Is it taught by the coaching staff, or is it learned through game experience?
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Owens said. “One thing we’re excited about is we have 15 to 16 guys that went through that last year. They went through those games that we didn’t finish.”
Capitalizing on opportunities requires both an attitude and crunch-time execution. In that Merritt Island game, a mistake on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line cost the team a scoring opportunity.
“We go back and look at specific plays on specific drives,” Owens said. “Whether it was offense or defense, we just didn’t finish drives. We’ve got to make the big plays when we have an opportunity to make them.”
It isn’t that the Vipers didn’t do it at all. They won at Rockledge in a nailbiter, 29-28, and they made enough plays in the season finale to beat a surging Astronaut team.
And Space Coast had a winning season, finishing 5-4 overall, meaning the players who returned this year have something to build on.
“I feel like this group has that mentality, because like I said, half of them went through it,” Owens said. “I’m excited where this program is. We’ve come a long way.”
Next step: finishing what they’ve started.
Contact McCallum at 321-242-3698 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow facebook.com/FLtoday.brianmccallum and @Brian_McCallum on Twitter.
2016 Vipers Schedule
Aug. 26 Space Coast at Tavares, 7
Sept. 1 Space Coast at Lake Howell, 7
Sept. 9 St. Cloud at Space Coast, 7
Sept. 16 Space Coast at Merritt Island, 7
Sept. 23 Poinciana at Space Coast, 7
Sept. 30 Rockledge at Space Coast, 7
Oct. 14 Palm Bay at Space Coast, 7
Oct. 21 Satellite at Space Coast, 7
Oct. 28 Space Coast at Titusville, 7
Nov. 4 Space Coast vs. Astronaut, 7