Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Charlie Smith hauls in a touchdown pass over the arms of Sierra’s Christian Rue for the first of nine Hawks’ scores Friday night.
The Liberty Hawks football team came out of its bye week and looked like it was hitting on all cylinders with a 63-0 rout of the Sierra-Tollhouse Chieftains in the North Sequoia League opener for both teams.
The Hawks had to battle out of their comfort zone Friday night. Not only were they coming out of the bye week, but there was no junior varsity game before the varsity and it was Homecoming.
“Everything was a little out of the norm,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “Any time you get out of the normal routine, it’s uncomfortable. Knowing the game was going to start at 7 p.m. wasn’t that bad. You wonder how the kids are going to respond. You just have to keep it as normal as you can for everybody and the kids responded.”
However, the Hawks scored on nine of their 10 possessions with the last possession coming at the end of the game. They invoked the running clock mercy rule late in the second quarter and were able to get everyone into the game.
“We had opportunities to get people in and gave them that opportunity,” Nolte said. “They played hard.”
Not only did the Hawks get their normal production from their three running backs — Kaleb Roth, Wyatt Roth and Rylan Howe — they also got production from the reserves. The top three backs combined for 294 yards and five touchdowns led by Wyatt Roth’s 112 yards and Kaleb’s three touchdowns. Nine other Hawks carried the ball and Jarred Castaneda and William Bucaroff scored their first touchdowns of the season.
“I thought we looked sharp and were ready to play,” Nolte said. “We’ll have to regroup and get ready next week. It was nice that things were going our way and we got plenty of yards. It’s one of those games that it’s hard to see how that game will be for us.”
The Hawks scored more than 60 points for the second time this season and the 63 points is tied for fifth most in school history and the margin of victory is tied for third most in school history.
Friday’s game served as a tune up to Liberty’s final three games of the season — at Washington Union-Easton, at Kerman and against Chowchilla.
“The kids have been around long enough to know the next three games will be tough,” Nolte said.
The Hawks defense held Sierra to just 38 yards of total offense on 35 plays. The Chieftains completed just one-of-seven passes for negative 5 yards. Sierra averaged just 1.4 yards per carry and earned just two first downs.
Meanwhile, the Hawks rushed for 406 yards, averaged 11.3 yards per carry and earned 20 first downs.
After the Hawks forced a Sierra punt despite two Liberty offsides penalties, Liberty took just three plays to find the end zone. After a Kaleb Roth five-yard gain, Howe gained 18 yards. Wyatt Roth finished the drive with a 19-yard touchdown run around the left side for a 7-0 lead just 2:28 into the game.
On Liberty’s next possession, Wyatt Roth gained 19-yards for a first down on fourth-and-three. On the next play, Hoelzel sent a pass to the end zone where Charlie Smith made a catch over the Sierra defender for a 34-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead after the second of Bradley Moon’s nine conversions.
The Hawks scored a little more than two minutes later on a one-play drive. After a 24-yard Sierra punt, Kaleb Roth carried the ball off the right side, then cut up the middle and split the Sierra defense for a 37-yard touchdown run and a 21-0 lead.
Another three-and-out led to another Sierra punt. Howe gained 15 yards on the first play and Wyatt Roth added a 13-yard run. After Kaleb Roth gained eight, Howe gained 13 yards to the five-yard line. Kaleb Roth finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.
Howe got Liberty’s next drive going with a 17-yard run and Roth finished it with a 29-yard touchdown run for a 35-0 lead.
Tahner Green stuffed Sierra on fourth-and-two and Nolte let Green finish the ensuing drive. After Wyatt Roth gained 13-yards, Green carried for 11, 9 and five for a touchdown with 3:18 left before the end of the first half for a 42-0 lead.
The Hawks got the ball back before the end of the first half after Keaton Ellis picked off Sierra quarterback Michael Pearson at midfield as he was pressured by Wyatt Roth.
After a short run by Howe, Roth ran behind a devastating Nick Hayes pulling block on the Sierra safety for a 45-yard touchdown run and a 49-0 lead with 56 seconds left in the first half.
The Hawks went on their longest drive of the night to open the second half with mostly reserve running backs. The nine-play, 67-yard drive took almost half of the third quarter.
Green started the drive with an eight-yard gain, but he injured his knee on the play. Nolte feared the worst for his jack-of-all trades defender and back-up running back.
Hoelzel hit Gregory Reitz for five yards and a first down. Howe gained seven and 16 yards to move the ball to the 31-yard line.
Ellis carried for 14, followed by Jarred Castaneda for eight yards and Jacob Castaneda for two yards. Ellis carried for three more to move the ball to the four and Bucaroff finished the drive with a touchdown run with 6:18 left in the third quarter.
Sierra threw four straight incomplete passes on its next drive and the Hawks took over at the Chieftains’ 26-yard line.
Jarred Castaneda got the carry around the right side and found the end zone for the touchdown on the final play of the fourth quarter.
Sierra went on its longest drive of the game to open the fourth quarter, but the nine-play drive ended on downs.
The Hawks continue NSL play Friday at Washington Union.