Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty running back Wyatt Roth jumps through the line to run behind guard Nick Hayes during Friday’s victory over Washington Union. Roth rushed for 208 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
With four first quarter touchdowns, the Liberty Hawks football team easily passed its first big test of the North Sequoia League season.
The Hawks improved to 2-0 in the NSL with a 35-7 victory over the Washington Union-Easton Panthers on Friday’s Homecoming game behind four touchdowns from Wyatt Roth.
“We’re right where we want to be,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “It’s real now. Tonight was a good test for us. Next week will be a better test for us and the next week will be an even better test. We’ll take it one week at a time and see how it goes.”
Next for the Hawks are the Kerman Lions on Senior Night. The Lions are a game behind the Hawks in the NSL and are coming off a bye week. Liberty closes the season at Chowchilla in a rivalry game that will be for a league championship. The Tribe will also be coming off a bye to face the Hawks.
The Hawks prepared for their two toughest weeks of the season with a dominating victory over the Panthers. Liberty outgained the Panthers 332-183 and forced two turnovers. The Hawks averaged 7.1 yards per play while Washington Union averaged just 3.7 yards.
“Their passing game is definitely not what it has been,” Nolte said. “I figured we would be all right up front. I was worried about the edge because of their speed. I thought we played a very good game on defense.”
The Panthers were forced to punt on five straight possessions and didn’t have a drive total more than 37 yards.
“We forced them to put together drives,” Nolte said. “They are a young team and will be good. When you force teams to put together drives, you force them to be consistently good.”
Roth led the Hawks with 202 yards rushing. Rylan Howe rushed for 68 yards and Tyler Miller rushed for 55 yards despite quarterback Bradley Miller not completing a pass on two attempts.
The Hawks got off to the best start imaginable. Starting the game from the Liberty 41-yard line, Roth went around the left side and burst through the Panthers’ defense for a 59-yard touchdown run just 15 seconds into the game.
Three plays later, Angel Lugo stuffed Panthers’ running back Stephen Martin and forced a fumble. David Portnoff recovered the ball at the 29-yard line.
From there, the Hawks began another touchdown drive. Tyler Miller gained 19 yards on third down. On the next play, Howe burst up the middle for a six-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 lead with 9:31 left in the game.
On the next Washington Union play, quarterback Christian Ruacho sent a pitch over his running back’s head. Roth recovered the ball on the two-yard line. Roth scored his third touchdown four plays later and Liberty led 21-0 less than four minutes into the game.
“I wanted to get off to a good start,” Nolte said. “I was worried about the game. I watched them play pretty good football and good defense. Offensively, I knew they were getting better as the season progressed. We came out and hit them in the mouth early. We got that turnover for a touchdown and kind of snowballed them in the first quarter.”
After a Panthers’ punt, the Hawks took over on their own 20. Howe rushed for five and a first down. Roth then gained 26 yards to the Panthers’ 40-yard line. Howe gained two yards on fourth down to the 30-yard line.
Two plays later, Roth went around the right side again, behind Nick Hayes and Brad Wallace, for a 25-yard touchdown run to increase Liberty’s lead to 28-0 with 1:42 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers got a 73-yard kickoff return to the 25-yard line. Five plays later, the Panthers scored from a yard out 44 seconds into the second quarter.
Howe gave the Hawks a first down with a five-yard run and then Roth scored on a 46-yard touchdown run, his fourth of the game, to give the Hawks a 35-7 lead with 10:13 left in the first half.
From there, both teams had trouble sustaining drives. The Panthers punted on both of their second quarter possessions while the Hawks punted on theirs.
In the second half, Miller threw an interception inside the Liberty 20-yard line. They punted twice and turned the ball over on downs on their other second half possessions.
The Liberty defense was equally adept. The Hawks forced three punts, a turnover on downs. The Panthers’ final drive ended the game.