Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty running back Christian Baker gives Washington Union’s Noah Beukers a stiff arm during a run Friday night. Baker ran for a career-high 152 yards and scored two touchdowns in a 35-20 Homecoming night win.
Heading into last week’s game against Washington Union-Easton, Liberty head coach Mike Nolte knew his team has won just one of the past nine meetings with the Panthers.
However, after Friday’s game, Nolte pointed out that it’s now two of the past 10 meetings after a 35-20 victory on Homecoming, which was televised on KFRE-59.
“It’s a huge win,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “Those guys have been our nemesis since forever since I’ve been here. For us to beat them with them coming off a big win the previous week against Chowchilla and to continue staying on the winning side of things is huge for our kids. The confidence level keeps getting better and better. They keep working hard. It’s really a big win.”
The usual game plan against Washington Union is to sustain long drives on offense to keep their offense off the field. Also, on defense the plan is to limit the Panthers big plays.
“They are the faster team on the field,” Nolte said. “We were able, for the most part, to neutralize that. We got pressure on the quarterback and were able to say on top of the long routes. I was proud of the way we played defense tonight. I was proud of the guys up front on the offense line paving the way for us to get yards.”
The Hawks ran the game plan to perfection from the beginning of the game. They set the tone with an 11-play, 80-yard drive to open the game and ran 63 plays for 383 yards. Meanwhile, Washington Union was limited to four plays of 20 or more yards and was 2-of-13 on third downs.
“They play the same scheme against us the past few years and have been decently successful stopping us,” Nolte said. “The difference tonight was the way we were able to get off the ball and the running backs are doing a great job blocking for each other.”
All but 14 of Liberty’s yards came on the ground. Christian Baker led the way with a team season high and a career high 152 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns. Kaleb Roth rushed for 102 yards and scored a touchdown. Quarterback Markie Brandt rushed for 65 yards and a touchdown and Wyatt Roth rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown.
“All three running backs are strong kids and are punishing runners,” Nolte said. “They are starting to develop that confidence and that’s what you saw in their play. They are running with a purpose.”
However, the only dimmer on a successful Homecoming was a late game injury to Baker. While Liberty was trying to run out the clock, Baker tried to stay inbounds with two defenders trying to bring him down. Baker held them off, but his knee gave out and he crumpled to the turf, clutching his left knee.
“Christian is a key force to both sides of the ball for us,” Nolte said. “We’ll see how he is.
Regardless, we’re still going to have a game Friday and somebody has to step up. There’s moves that need to be made, but we’ve been practicing those kinds of things. Christian had a shoulder injury and didn’t pad up until tonight, so we had guys who know what to do. Guys are definitely going to have to step up if he’s not going to play.”
Liberty scored on the first drive with an 11-play drive. After Brandt hit Kaleb Roth for 14-yards on third down, the Hawks didn’t see a third down the rest of the drive. Baker had the big play with an 18-yard run up the middle and Brandt closed the drive with a four-yard touchdown run. Michael Hamman hit the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 7:25 left in the first quarter.
After the Panthers went three-and-out, the Hawks began another drive. Baker ran for 12-yards on third-and-three. Kaleb Roth gained 27-yards to the 24-yard line. Two plays later, Baker gained 20 up the middle to the two and he finished the drive off with a touchdown run and a 14-0 lead.
Washington Union then got a 34-yard pass play and a fourth down pass interference penalty to drive to the 10-yard line. The Panthers scored on a fourth down pass play to cut Liberty’s lead to 14-7.
After another three-and-out, the Panthers drove on the Hawks again. An 18-yard run keyed a game-tying drive. A three-yard pass in the end zone tied the game with 20 seconds left in the half.
On the first play of the third quarter, Panthers running back Noah Beukers rushed around the right side and scored on a 63-yard run just 22 seconds into the half. Washington Union missed the extra point, but held a 20-14 lead.
Liberty responded with a scoring drive of its own. Roth started the drive with a 23-yard run for a first down. Brandt carried for 12 and seven for two first downs. Brandt then carried for 13 yards for a first down and then 11 yards to the six-yard line. Roth finished the drive with a six-yard touchdown run. Hamman’s extra point gave the Hawks a 21-20 lead with 7:17 left in the third quarter.
The Panthers completed a 29-yard pass, but the Hawks defense forced a turnover on downs. From there, the Hawks added another touchdown. Wyatt Roth started the drive with a 19-yard gain.
From the 27-yard line, Liberty faced a fourth-and-nine. Brandt threw to Johnson down the field and the pass fell incomplete. But, the Panthers were hit with a pass interference penalty. Baker then went for 11-yards to the one-yard line. Baker scored three plays later for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 28-20 lead.
Liberty took over at the Panthers’ 33 and quickly drove down the field. Kaleb Roth gained 13 to the nine-yard line. Baker fumbled through the end zone on the next play and the Panthers took over at the 20.
However, the Hawks got a turnover three plays later when Tahner Green intercepted Washington Union off a tip from Greyson Hoelzel.
The Hawks scored two plays later after a 10-yard run from Baker and a seven-yard touchdown run by Wyatt Roth for the 35-20 final scored.
The Hawks forced four incomplete passes on Washington Union’s next drive and the Hawks worked to milk the clock and turned the ball over on downs at their own four-yard line with less than a minute left in the game.