Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty fullback cuts back against an Immanuel defender for extra yards during Friday’s victory over the Eagles. Howe finished with 97 yards rushing in the 49-19 win.
REEDLEY — For most of the season, the Liberty Hawks football team seemed to be going through the motions for the final three games of the season.
The Hawks are right where head coach Mike Nolte wants them to be after a 49-19 victory over Immanuel-Reedley on Friday to improve to 6-1 this season.
“We’re right where we want to be,” Nolte said. “It sets up for us. We’ll see how we do next week. It’ll be tough.”
However, the first seven games do not mean too much with the next three games on the schedule, all North Sequoia League match-ups. The Hawks finally return home after spending the last month on the road for Homecoming against Washington Union-Easton. Then comes Senior Night against Kerman and the season finale at Chowchilla.
“This is what it’s all about,” Nolte said. “Playing at the end of the season, playing better each week, getting the best play at the end of the season. It’s a challenge for us. We have to step up. We have enough kids that have been there before to know this is for real now.”
The Hawks got another big performance from running back Wyatt Roth. He rushed for 209 and four touchdowns. Roth has 1,250 yards rushing (seventh highest in Hawks history) this season to go with 21 touchdowns (third-most for the Hawks in a season). He is averaging almost 14 yards per carry and has 16 runs of 20 yards or more.
The Hawks took care of Immanuel early. They scored 35 first half points and cruised again in the second half. The rushed for 448 yards and outgained Immanuel by almost 200 yards. Liberty accumulated 26 first downs and forced three turnovers.
Liberty took just five plays to get on the scoreboard. Roth gained eight on second down. Two plays later, Roth took the ball around the left side and ran behind blocks created by Nick Hayes and Brad Wallace for a 49-yard touchdown run just 1:19 into the game.
The Eagles recorded three first downs on their first drive, but were forced to punt after a sack by Nick Hayes and David Portnoff. On the punt, Roth went unblocked through the line and blocked the punt to give the Hawks great field position.
Roth opened drive with a 12-yard gain. Rylan Howe, who gained 97 yards rushing, ran for 16 yards. Tyler Miller, who rushed for 113 yards, gained three, but Immanuel was called for a personal foul. On the next play, confusion in the backfield led to a fumble and Immanuel recovered.
The Hawks’ defense forced a punt after Angel Lugo and Portnoff stopped Immanuel for a five-yard loss.
Roth took the handoff on an inside counter and followed tight end Colton Cardoza through the line. Roth ran off of Cardoza’s block for a 55-yard touchdown run and a 14-0 Liberty lead with 3:53 left in the first quarter.
“It was good that we were able to get points on the board early and get them on their heels and get some momentum,” Nolte said. “
After an initial Immanuel first down, the Eagles were forced to punt.
The Hawks then went on a 12-pay, 68-yard drove to add to their lead. Howe gained six on third-and-four. Howe added a run for 14 yards. Miller gained 12 to the Immanuel 12. Miller gained four on third-and-three to get the ball to the one-yard line. Howe finished the drive with a one-yard run for a 21-0 lead with 9:09 left in the first half.
“We were going pretty fast and wore them out a little bit,” Nolte said. “It was good that our kids responded to the pressure we put on them.”
Miller picked off Immanuel quarterback Matt Tiger on the Eagles’ next possession.
The Hawks recorded three straight first downs on a 27-yard run from Howe, an 11-yard run from Roth and a 15-yard run by Miller to get the ball to the six-yard line. Two plays later, Roth scored from three yards out for a 28-0 lead with six minutes left in the first half.
The Eagles came back and got on the scoreboard with a 39-yard run through the middle of the Liberty defense to cut the lead to 21 with four minutes left in the half.
It was plenty of time to drive down the field for the Hawks. Miller and Roth gained 13 yards to open the drive. Miller gained 11 to move to the ball to the 16-yard line.
Roth was stuffed for a loss of five yards on third down. On fourth down from the 12, Nolte went for it and gave it to Miller on a fly sweep. Miller cut inside an Immanuel defender and leapt into the end zone for a touchdown with a minute left in the half for a 35-7 lead.
The Hawks forced a three-and-out on Immanuel’s opening possession of the second half after a sack from Roth, Portnoff and William Bucaroff.
Miller started the next drive with a 13-yard run and Roth ended it with a 25-yard run for his fourth score of the game and give Liberty a 42-7 lead after the sixth of Bradley Moon’s seven point afters.
Tiger fumbled on Immanuel’s next possession and Trevor Porter recovered for the Hawks.
Miller gained 11-yards to get the ball into the red zone. Roth gained five on third down. Two plays later, Miller finished the drive with a seven-yard touchdown run for a 49-7 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter to institute the running clocks.
The Eagles closed the game with a pair of garbage-time touchdowns for the 49-19 Liberty victory.