Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Markie Brandt throws a pass during Friday’s victory over Patterson. Brandt set a school record with 270 yards passing to go with three touchdowns and 64 rushing yards.
PATTERSON — Midway through the second quarter, the Liberty Hawks were looking up at a daunting 21-point deficit and knew they had work to do if they were going to pick up their third straight football victory and even their season record to 3-3.
The Hawks outscored Patterson 34-7 over the final two-and-a-half quarters for a 34-28 victory Friday to close out Liberty’s pre-league schedule.
“I think we really gave them 21 points and that’s a big hole to get out of,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “It’s hard not to think about 21-0, but it was so early in the game, I knew if we could get a little momentum going, we would have a chance.”
After dropping its first three games, Liberty has won their last three — a 63-0 win over Fowler and a 49-12 win over Corcroan — heading into North Sequoia League play Oct. 14.
“The confidence level that our kids are developing, especially after this win, is huge going into league,” Nolte said. “If we don’t get those two wins, I don’t know where our confidence would have been.”
Patterson returned the opening kickoff 84 yards to the one yard line, recovered a fumble at the one and picked off a pass at the 25-yard line in the first half. The Tigers scored after each opportunity to put Liberty into a big hole.
The Hawks’ defense stiffened and the Liberty offense started to roll. The defense forced nine Patterson punts, six on three-and-outs, and allowed just 136 yards of total offense. Patterson averaged just three yards per play.
“Coach (Jim) Santa Cruz put in a good game plan against these guys,” Nolte said. “The kids took care of their responsibilities and we took them out of what they like to do. We made them uncomfortable to do.”
Patterson’s four touchdown drives were from one, two, 16 and 34 yards and went for a combined six plays.
Meanwhile, Liberty’s offense started rolling behind Markie Brandt’s record-setting performance. Liberty had touchdown drives of 65, 82, 74 and 71 yards that took a combined 26 plays and that doesn’t include two eight-play drives that resulted in field goals.
“Once we started moving the ball a little bit, good things happened and we got some big plays go our way,” Nolte said. “I don’t know if it was blown coverages, we got behind them a few times to make big plays. The kids’ confidence started going up.”
Brandt threw for a school-record 270 yards (Zach Richey, 230 in 2012) and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 64 yards, including a season-long 43-yard run. Wyatt Johnson caught two touchdown passes and Greyson Hoelzel scored another.
“Some of the balls were on purpose, but some of them were throwing it up, look up to the man upstairs and hopefully something great happened,” Brandt said.
The running games was bogged down in the first half, but started accumulating yardage in the second half. Liberty finished with 170 rushing yards with Brandt leading the way. Christian Baker rushed for 40 yards and Kaleb Roth added 37.
Patterson put the Hawks into an early hole. Phabian Portillo returned the opening kickoff to the one yard line and Patterson scored on the next play and Liberty trailed 25 seconds into the game.
Late in the first, the Hawks began a drive at their own 14-yard line. A pair of penalties moved the ball to the three yard line. However, Patterson recovered a fumble at the two and scored two plays later for a 14-0 lead with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
Later in the second, Brandt was picked off deep in Liberty territory and Patterson got a first down at the 16-yard line. Patterson scored on the next play for a 21-0 lead with 7:30 left in the half.
Liberty finally got some momentum going when Brandt hit tight end John Clay Cowger with a 44-yard pass play to the Patterson 14-yard line. It was Cowger’s first reception of the season. Brandt hit Kaleb Roth for eight yards on third-and-five and Wyatt Roth scored two plays later from two yards out for Liberty’s first points. Michael Hamman made the first of four extra points.
The Hawks allowed a 28-yard pass play on first down, but stiffened up as Patterson threw three straight incomplete passes.
Brandt came out throwing on the next drive, hitting Kaleb Roth three straight times for 58 yards to move the Hawks to the Patterson 24.
However, Liberty hit a wall after Brandt was hit with an intentional grounding penalty.
On fourth-and-15, Brandt was forced out of the pocket to his right and threw a ball to the end zone. Johnson saw the pass, stepped in front of his defender and jumped up to haul in the 18-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to seven with 1:12 left in the first half.
“That was praying to God and hoping he would catch it,” Brandt said.
After falling behind early, Liberty went into the half trailing by seven.
“The coaches took us in at halftime and I told the players that the coaches coach and the players play,” Brandt said. “Whoever is going to want it more is going to get it. I truly believe that there’s not another team in our division better than us. If we play to our full potential, we can do great things.”
Patterson opened the second half scoring with a Portillo 33-yard touchdown for a 28-14 lead with 9:50 left in the second half. However, those would be the Tigers’ final points of the game.
Brandt keyed the next drive with a 43-yard scramble to the Patterson 31-yard line. Four plays later, on fourth-and-13, Brandt found Johnson in the end zone for a long touchdown. Brandt scrambled to his right and Johnson snuck behind the defender. Brandt lofted a pass over the defender’s head right into Johnson’s arms for a touchdown with 7:12 left in the second half.
“We didn’t give up the momentum,” Nolte said. “It was nice to see the kids fight to get back in the game, take the lead and to put a good team away.”
After another Patterson punt, Liberty faced a third down at its own 30-yard line. Brandt stepped back and launched a pass down the field. The ball looked to be overthrown for Cowger, but Hoelzel was behind him and caught the ball in stride. He outran the Patterson defense for a 70-yard catch-and run to tie the game with 3:52 left in the quarter.
The Hawks’ defense forced a three-and-out and the Hawks drove 59-yards before they were stopped. Hamman came in and nailed a 33-yard field goal for a 31-28 lead on the final play of the third quarter.
The Hawks forced another three-and-out and the Hawks methodically moved down the field before getting forced into another field goal attempt, this one from 37 yards out. Hamman was short on the kick, but a Patterson defender knocked him down, resulting in a roughing the kicker penalty.
Hamman got another chance three plays later and hit a 37-yard field goal.
Brandt picked off Patterson quarterback Kevin Todd on the next offensive play and the Hawks tried to run out the clock before Brandt punted the ball away.
Three incomplete passes gave the ball back to Liberty. Christian Baker got a first down after an eight-yard run and sealed the game with a 34-28 victory.
Liberty will take this week off before opening North Sequoia League play Oct. 14 against Sierra-Tollhouse.
“We’re a little banged up a little and it comes at a good time for us,” Nolte sad. “But, when you have the ball rolling, you want to keep it going.