Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty quarterback Greyson Hoelzel flies through the air for a first down during Friday’s season opening 55-34 victory.
FIREBAUGH — The Liberty Hawks wing-T rushing attack took advantage of what the Firebaugh Eagles gave them for a 55-34 season-opening victory.
The Hawks rushed for a school record 574 yards and scored all eight touchdowns on the ground. Liberty’s Roth brothers (older brother Kaleb and younger brother Wyatt) combined for 389 yards and five touchdowns. Fullback Rylan Howe added 117 yards and back-up Tahner Green added 53 yards and two touchdowns.
“They did have a defensive scheme where they overloaded and we had stuff for that,” Liberty head coach Mike Nolte said. “It worked a little bit. Our tempo in the first half allowed us to affect them where they were set in their defense all night. Our tempo helped them be predictable.”
The 574 rushing yards broke last year’s record of 500 yards against Sierra. Liberty rushed for 365 yards in the first half.
“We want to be able to run the football,” Nolte said. “It’s gratifying because I believe they knew we wanted to run the football and we were still able to run the football with a lot of success. Our kids really played well on offense.”
Firebaugh stayed in the game behind big plays. The Eagles scored on an 82-yard pass play and kickoff returns of 95 and 92 yards.
“The big plays kept them in the game early and gave them confidence,” Nolte said. “It’s how we respond to big plays is what’s important and our kids did respond.”
The Hawks play at Mendota on Fridayin a Div. IV match-up. Mendota, who won the past two Div. V Valley Championships, was moved to Div. IV this season.
“Our running attack made a statement tonight and next week is a new week,” Nolte said. “I believe Mendota will be geared up and it will be a battle.”
The Hawks quickly took to the ground to open the game. They drove 10 plays (eight runs) for 65-yards to score their first touchdown of the season just 2:32 into the game.
The Hawks faced just one third down and drew Firebaugh offsides to convert. Wyatt Roth went to the left and cut back up the middle to score a 10-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead after a Bradley Moon point after.
Firebaugh drove down the field and stalled at the five-yard line. Tackles by Green and Colton Cardoza forced a fourth down. Firebaugh’s 22-yard field goal went wide right.
The Hawks were forced to punt for the only time in the game. Two plays later, Roth forced a fumble and recovered it. However, the Hawks turned the ball over on downs at the 18-yard line.
Firebaugh’s Jeshua Gutierrez cut the lead to one with a long pass to Tylor Palmer over a stumbling Helzel in coverage for an 82-yard touchdown on the last play of the first quarter.
Hoelzel kept the next drive going with a 15-yard pass to William Bucaroff. It was the only pass Hoelzel completed.
The running attack took over from there. Rylan Howe went up the middle for 25 yards. Wyatt Roth went for seven, Kaleb Roth went for 11 to the seven yards. Two plays later, Roth shook off a tackle in the backfield and scored from three-yards out for a 14-6 lead with 8:49 left in the half.
The Hawks defense forced a punt and the offense took over for a seven-play, 50-yard drive. The big play was a 36-yard gain by Wyatt Roth to the 13-yard line. Kaleb Roth gained 11 after a holding penalty and three plays later, on fourth-and-goal, Howe scored up the middle for a 21-12 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Christopher DeFrancesco split the Liberty kickoff team for a 95-yard return to cut the lead to 21-12 with 3:57 left in the half.
The Hawks answered with a touchdown of their own. Kaleb Roth got the drive started with a 35-yard gain. He gained 17 on third-and-two to the eight-yard line. Roth gained six on the next drive and finished it out with a two-yard touchdown run for a 28-12 lead.
However, on the ensuing kickoff, Firebaugh’s Tylor Palmer caught the ball on the left and went across the field up the right side for a 92-yard touchdown return for a 28-18 lead with 1:18 left in the half.
The Hawks drove into scoring position before the end of the first half. Kaleb Roth gained 40-yards to the 14-yard line for the big play. However, Hoelzel was picked off in the end zone on the final play of the first half.
Firebaugh took the second half kickoff and drove inside the Liberty 25-yard line. However, a sack by Colton Cardoza and Francisco Rojas forced a fourth-and-12 Gutierrez threw incomplete to Palmer to turn the ball over on downs.
The Hawks then went on a 10-play, 75-yard drive to take a 35-18 lead. Wyatt Roth had the big run with a 16-yard gain. Green scored around the left end from seven yards out for the touchdown and a 35-18 lead.
On the kickoff, Moon, not wanting to kick it deep, sent a short ball that went off a Firebaugh defender. He ended up falling on the ball to give the Hawks possession again.
Roth gained 39 yards on the next play to the 10-yard line. Three plays later, Roth scored from a yard out for the touchdown and a 41-18 lead.
Firebaugh scored less than two minutes later on a 19-yard pass from Gutieerez to Palmer. The two-point conversion was good and Liberty led 42-26.
The Hawks, again, answered with a touchdown of their own. Liberty scored on an 11-play, 51-yard drive to put the game away. Kaleb Roth closed out the drive with a one-yard run for a 49-26 lead with seven minutes left in the game.
The Eagles didn’t stop and used a 44-yard gain to get into scoring position. The Eagles scored on a seven-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal to cut Liberty’s lead to 15 with 5:29 left in the game.
The Hawks scored four plays later when Green split the Eagles defense for a 33-yard touchdown run for a 55-34 lead with 3:54 left in the game.
Firebaugh drove down the field to try to get back into the game. However, from the nine-yard line, Hoelzel intercepted Gutierrez at the one and he returned it 65-yards to essentially end the game.