Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Tahner Green runs through a Mendota defender during a second quarter run to set up a touchdown in Friday’s 41-7 victory over the Aztecs.
MENDOTA — This year, a fourth quarter comeback wasn’t necessary to defeat the Mendota Aztecs for the Liberty Hawks.
Last year, the Hawks found themselves trailing by seven late and couldn’t find the game-tying touchdown. They had two chances to rally in a 26-19 loss last year. However, this year, the Hawks used a 21-point second quarter to run past the Aztecs 41-7 Friday in Mendota.
Last week, the Hawks set a school record with 573 yards rushing. Although they didn’t reach that mark Friday night, the Hawks rushed for 385 yards and had two running backs gain more than 100 yards for the second straight week.
“I was really going into the game really worried,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “I knew they were big up front. I wasn’t sure how our guys were going to handle it. They brought a lot of pressure early on and we were able to handle it good enough to move the ball down the field and score. I was really proud of our kids. Going in, I wasn’t sure what to expect.”
Wyatt Roth rushed for 148 yards and had three 20-plus yards or more rushes, including a 56-yarder. His older brother Kaleb rushed for 124 yards and also had a 50-yard run. They both scored two touchdowns.
“The offensive line is starting to play with confidence and believe in each other,” Nolte said. “It just comes from playing together.”
The Liberty offensive line of Nick Hayes, Brad Wallace, Harrison Caetano, Adam Pearce, Francisco Rojas and tight end Colton Cardoza opened holes for the Liberty backs, who averaged 7.7 yards per carry with five touchdowns.
Kaleb Roth led the Hawks with 20 tackles, four solos and one for a loss. Cardoza had 11 tackles and Wyatt Roth had nine tackles. Keaton Ellis had an interception and Hayes and Spencer Howard had fumble recoveries for the Hawks, who didn’t punt in the game.
The Hawks set the tone right from the start, marching methodically down the field. From its own 20-yard line, Liberty marched 80-yards on 15 plays to open the game’s scoring.
The Hawks were helped by a pass interference penalty on third-and-five after an initial first down. Kaleb Roth carried five on third-and-four and Wyatt Roth carried for eight on third-and-3. Two plays later, quarterback Greyson Hoelzel lofted a ball up the middle to a wide open Cardoza for a 22-yard touchdown for a 6-0 lead with 8:05 left in the first.
“It’s always important to get out of the gate and score first to establish yourself a little bit,” Nolte said. “It’s early in the season and we don’t know what to expect out of them. It’s real important.”
After a trade in possessions, the Aztecs were added by a face mask penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to move inside the 25-yard line. However, the Hawks defense, led by Kaleb and Wyatt Roth forced a turnover on downs.
The Hawks were helped by a horse collar penalty to kick start the next drive. Kaleb Roth carried for 12 yards and a first down. A face mask penalty while Hoelzel was getting sacked aided the Liberty drive.
After the penalty, Tahner Green carried for 19 to the 10-yard line, Green carried the ball to the one and, two plays later, Kaleb Roth scored on a one-yard touchdown for a 13-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
On third-and-12, Mendota fumbled the handoff. Hayes jumped on it for the Hawks at the Mendota 39-yard line. Rylan Howe started the drive with an 11-yard run.
Two plays later, Wyatt Roth got the carry off the left side. He broke four tackles on his way to the end zone for a 20-0 lead with 9:36 left in the first half.
Green stuffed a Mendota ball carrier for a loss of seven on the next drive and the Aztecs turned the ball over on downs.
On the first play of the drive, Kaleb Roth took the ball off the right side and cut across the field and ran down the left sideline for a 50-yard gain to the 15-yard line.
Green carried for 12-yards to the three. Two plays later, Howe scored from the one for a 27-0 lead with 4:59 left in the first half.
The Aztecs got a spark with a 73-yard touchdown on a screen pass, but a blocking below the waist penalty gave the Aztecs a first down at the 26. The Hawks defense, led by Hoelzel, Kaleb Roth and Green allowed one yard. On the next play, Keaton Ellis picked off a Mendota pass to end the drive near the end of the first half.
In the second half, the Aztecs came out using the ground game for a 15-play, 53-yard drive that saw the Aztecs convert two third downs and a fourth down to score their first touchdown. The drive took more than seven minutes off the clock and cut Liberty’s lead to 27-7.
However, the Hawks drove right back into the game, starting at their own 25-yard line.
Kaleb Roth gained 11 for a first down. On third-and-7, Hoelzel rolled to his left and continued to run with the ball and gained 32-yards and a first down to the 22-yard line. Two plays later, Roth found the end zone from 22 yards out. Bradley Moon’s extra point gave the hawks a 34-7 lead with 1:31 left in the third quarter.
On the next drive, Adam Pearce stuffed Mendota for a three-yard loss. Wyatt Roth caught Mendota for a three-yard loss on third down. Kaleb Roth made a solo tackle after a one-yard gain to turn the ball over on downs.
On the second playoff the drive, Wyatt Roth split the Mendota defense up the middle for a 56-yard run before getting tackled just before hitting the end zone. Nolte let Roth finish the drive with a one-yard touchdown run for a 41-7 lead with 9:02 left in the game.
The Aztecs took a lot of time off the clock and moved down the field with a 10-play, 49-yard drive before dropping the center snap. Howard fell on the ball for the fumble recovery to, essentially, put the game away.
The Hawks open their home season Friday night against Escalon.