Liberty running back Kaleb Roth dives into the end zone for the first of his two touchdowns in Friday’s loss to Escalon. (Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune)
ESCALON — The Liberty Hawks football traveled 100 miles north and are still chasing a point.
The Hawks put themselves in good position to tie last Friday’s game with the Escalon Cougars after a third quarter touchdown. However, a missed extra point kept the Hawks trailing and Escalon, of the Trans-Valley Conference in the Sac Joaquin Section, used a 21-play drive to end the game with a 21-20 intersectional victory.
“Our kids played hard tonight,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “I’m proud of the way they played. Escalon is a good football team and controlled the line of scrimmage when they needed to and that was the storyline of the game.”
Escalon running back Tim Costa was a beneficiary of controlling the clock. He got the majority of the carries at the end of the game and finished with 33 carries for 198 yards. He accounted for 62 percent of the Cougars’ offense.
“It’s a comforting thing when you can do that,” Nolte said. “We’ve been on that end to run out the clock, but it’s tough to be on the other end. I give Escalon a lot of credit. They were efficient on offense, they stayed patient and did a good job.”
Although Liberty was outgained by 81 yards, the Hawks were just as efficient. They averaged 5.8 yards per play while gaining 237 yards. Meanwhile, Escalon averaged five yards per play, but ran 22 more plays.
“I like the way we played offensively,” Nolte said. “We had a couple of setbacks that hurt us. Overall, I thought it was a good effort.”
Liberty had four players record more than 10 tackles, led by linebacker Kaleb Roth with 16. He also recorded a team-high five solo tackles. Markie Brandt and Wyatt Roth each had 11 tackles and Brandt had the game’s lone turnover with an interception.
Lineman Ethan Clark recorded 14 tackles and fellow lineman Brett Cazares recorded eight.
“Ethan and Brett on the defensive line played solid,” Nolte said. “We were rotating a ton of guys through the middle to keep guys fresh and see who would make plays. Hopefully, we can get healthy and get guys back to play better.”
The Hawks opened the game with the possession and were forced to punt. Escalon got the ball and, running the same wing-T offense as the Hawks, ran down the field.
The Cougars drove nine plays, all rushes, for 63-yards for the game’s first touchdown. C.J. Gumbs scored from five yards out for a 7-0 lead with 6:50 left in the first quarter.
Liberty responded with a 12-play, 64-yard drive to tie the score. Quarterback Markie Brandt started the drive with a 12-yard pass to Wyatt Johnson. On fourth-and-two, Kaleb Roth ran for four yards and a first down. Brandt carried for 14 on the next play and ran for six yards on fourth-and-one. Roth carried for seven to the four-yard line and Roth scored on the next play. Michael Hamman tied the score with 1:42 left in the first quarter.
Brandt intercepted Escalon on the next possession and started another scoring drive. Roth started the drive with an eight-yard run. Christian Baker ran for nine yards and a first down.
Then, Brandt hit Greyson Hoelzel on a quick hook. Hoelzel broke an initial tackle and ran 32 yards to the 10-yard line for Liberty’s longest pass play of the year.
Two plays later, Brandt took the ball himself over the end zone over guard Clark from three yards out for a 14-7 lead with 11 minutes left in the first half.
The Cougars then drove 78 yards on seven plays to score a game-tying touchdown. Costa broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage and was off for a 43-yard touchdown run and a tie game with 7:46 left in the half.
After a Liberty punt, Escalon drove down the field with time running out in the half. The Cougars completed a 14-play, 71-yard drive with a Gumbs 11-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds left in the half for a 21-14 lead.
After allowing an initial first down, the Hawks’ defense held up. Tackles from Roth, Cazarez, harrison Caetano, Clark and Tahner Green forced an Escalon punt.
The Hawks embarked on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that took almost 10 minutes off the clock.
Roth kept the drive moving with a 12-yard gain on third-and-3. Brandt found Hoelzel for 15-yards on third-and-10. Brandt hit Roth for 14 yards on third-and-7 to move the ball to the 16-yard line. Roth gained three more on third-and-two. Two plays later, Roth scored from seven-yards out for a 21-20 Escalon lead with 2:43 left in the third quarter.
Escalon blocked the ensuing extra point to hold onto its lead.
Liberty forced a three-and-out when Wyatt Roth pressured Escalon into an incompletion on third-and-10.
After the punt, Liberty took over at its own 41. However, a holding penalty and a quarterback sack forced a punt.
Escalon took over four plays into the fourth quarter and didn’t give up the ball. On the 21-play drive, Costa carried the ball 14 times for 66 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He carried the ball on four straight plays and gained six first downs, including two on fourth down.
Quarterback Dylan Azevedo closed out the game with two kneel downs.
Liberty hosts Fowler on Friday at 7 p.m.