Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty running back Wyatt Roth gets upended near the goal line in the first quarter of Friday’s victory over Firebaugh. Roth picked up where he left off lastyear and rushed for 116 yards and three touchdowns.
After the Firebaugh Eagles scored the first points of the season, the Liberty Hawks football team scored the next 34 points in a dominating season-opening victory.
The Hawks scored on four straight first half possessions and added another touchdown after halftime to cruise to a 34-3 victory.
“Winning the first game is so huge for any team,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “It sets the stage for the seas. You learn how to win and you learn how to lose. I’d rather learn how to win. Getting that taste in your mouth is something the kids should savor and want more of.”
The Hawks’ offensive line dominated all night, led by returning starters Nick Hayes, Angel Lugo and Brad Wallace. Liberty rushed for 353 yards and averaged six yards per play and 6.4 yards per rush.
“I thought going in we could win the battle up front,” Nolte said. “They didn’t look overly big on film. With guys like Nick Hayes, Angel Lugo and Brad Wallace, guys that have played a lot, that experience really helps. Our two tackles are coming along. I thought we could dominate on the line. Also, the experience at tight end with Colton Cardoza knowing he’s a big guy and he knows how to do something with his size.”
Wyatt Roth picked up from last season and led the Hawks with 116 yards and scored three touchdowns. He averaged 7.3 yards per rush.
Last season, Roth rushed for 1,222 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Fullback Rylan Howe rushed for 102 yards and averaged 7.9 yards per rush. Tyler Miller, in his first varsity game, rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown while averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
“I was a little worried about our intensity,” Nolte said. “The kids and the team as a whole needs to find their personality. That’s going to play out through the season. As we move forward, tonight was a good step as far as intensity and enthusiasm. I think we can still do better. I would like to see it snowball. We will get there. They are still finding themselves.”
The defense also stepped up its intensity. They allowed just six Firebaugh first downs and 167 yards of total offense, including 77yards on the ground. The defense also had four interceptions — two from Bradley Moon and one each from Miller and Steven Protzman to end the game. Angel Lugo and Adam Pranger each recorded quarterback sacks.
The defense, under the direction of new defensive coordinator Tyler Melvin forced four punts and allowed Firebaugh into Liberty territory four times in 12 possessions. One of those possession reached just the Liberty 49-yard line and the other was the last play of the first half.
After Bradley Miller threw an interception on Liberty’s first drive of the season, the Hawks came back to score touchdowns on their next four drives and five of the next six into the second half.
After the Hawks got the ball back after a punt, the combination of Tyler Miller, Roth and Howe gave the Hawks the lead. Miller struck first for nine yards. Howe went for 10 and Roth gained 19 for a first down. Miller ended the drive on an inside counter for a 24-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 6:20 left in the first quarter after Bradley Moon’s extra point.
After a Firebaugh punt, the Hawks drove down the field again, this time taking a little more time.
Roth gained 12 yards for a first down and Howe gained 16 for another. Roth ended the 12-play, 66-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run.
In Firebaugh’s next possession, quarterback Jeshua Gutierrez tried a pass up the middle. The pass was tipped by Cardoza and picked off by Moon.
The Hawks then went 76 yards on 11 plays for a 21-3 lead with 7:47 left in the half. Moon made a one-handed grab on a Bradley Miller pass for a 16-yard gain on the first play of the drive. Ryalan Howe gained 12 for a first down. Roth and Howe each went for 11 yards to the Firebaugh 17-yard line.
Five plays later, Roth scored from four yards out.
While Liberty picked up 23 first downs on the night, Firebaugh only had six and two came on its next drive, which ended on downs.
The Hawks drove 65 yards on eight plays for a touchdown.
Howe ended the drive by going untouched through the middle of the Firebaugh defense for a touchdown and a 28-3 lead with two minutes left in the first half.
On their first possession of the second half, the Hawks drove on four plays after a Miller interception.
Bradley Miller found Moon for a 27-yard gain to the 14-yard line. Two plays later, Roth scored from 10 yards out for a 34-3 lead.
From there, Nolte sent in the second units. Nine different players carried the ball for the Hawks to close out the victory.
Liberty hosts Mendota on Friday.