Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty defensive linemen Francisco Rojas (77) and Nick Hayes (52) engulf Chowchilla quarterback Cody Woolsey during a third quarter sack Friday night.
CHOWCHILLA — Facing a 20-0 deficit, the Liberty Hawks looked stunned, but came back behind a record-breaking performance from their Most Valuable Player, Wyatt Roth.
Roth rushed 30 times for 263 yards and led the comeback for the Hawks with four touchdowns.
After giving the Tribe a 20-0 lead, the Hawks scored 35 unanswered points for a 35-27 victory Friday to complete an undefeated North Sequoia League season and win the league championship.
“I’m so proud of my team and how they keep fighting,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “They showed they had that in them last week. It looked pretty bleak this week. They kept fighting. They felt the momentum swing. Everybody stepped up. We were able to hang in there and keep fighting.”
“It means everything to get this title,” Roth said. “Come Monday, we have to put this game behind us and get ready for playoffs.”
Roth scored two touchdowns before halftime to cut the lead to 20-14. He then scored two more after the break to give him 32 on the season to tie the school record for touchdowns in a season. Along the way, Roth also broke the school record for rushing yards in a season and rushing yards in a career while extending his career rushing touchdown record.
“Wyatt made his case tonight (for league MVP),” Nolte said. “I don’t know how you can’t make him the MVP.”
“Our team never gives up,” Roth said. “We never hang our head and we always bounce back. It happened last week against Kerman and tonight. We just rise to the challenge no matter what the score is.”
With the win, the Hawks earned the No. 4 seed in the Div. V playoffs and will host the Lindsay Cardinals on Friday.
Along with Roth, the Liberty defense, under first-year coordinator Tyler Melvin, held the Tribe to 210 yards of total offense. In between the Tribe’s third touchdown and fourth touchdown, Chowchilla had seven possessions. Those possessions ended with a fumble, two interceptions, end of the first half, a turnover on downs and two punts while accumulating just 36 yards.
“We just stayed in the system we were running,” Melvin said. “When the kids pull the trigger, we have some pretty good players. They make it go.”
Take out a 53-yard touchdown run and a 25-yard touchdown run by Jordan Hornbeak and the Tribe accumulated just 132 yards over 48 plays or 2.8 yards per play.
“When you play aggressive, you can let a big play happen,” Melvin said. “When we make them earn it, it puts us in a lot better spot. When they commit to it and get to the right spots, we have some good athletes that can make things happen. This has been one of the most versatile defenses we’ve had. We have kids that we can move around and not have to sub. It’s a good group of kids.”
After Chowchilla punted on its opening possession, the Hawks were forced to punt and the snap went over punter Colton Cardoza’s head and Chowchilla had possession at the six-yard line.
The Tribe went backwards with Cody Woolsey falling on a bad snap to force a fourth-and-goal from the 21. The Tribe attempted a 38-yard field goal and it was short.
Three plays later, Liberty fumbled a hand-off and Chowchilla recovered. Five plays later, Woolsey found Ronan Halsey in the end zone catching a pass over Tyler Miller’s head.
Liberty earned two first downs on its next drive, but turned the ball over on downs. On the play, Hornbeak broke off a 54-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.
However, Bradley Miller threw an interception on the next play. Helped by a pass interference and a face mask penalty, Chowchilla drove inside the 10-yard line. Three plays later, Woolsey found Haley, again, for a four-yard touchdown and a 20-0 lead with 7:37 left in the first half.
The Hawks, again, turned the ball over on downs. However, two plays later, Woolsey had trouble with a hand-off and fumbled. Roth was there for the fumble recovery at the 34-yard line.
Roth got the Hawks on the scoreboard with a sweep to the left side behind Nick Hayes and Brad Wallace for a 34-yard touchdown with four minutes left in the first half.
After the Tribe executed its second fake punt of the game, Woolsey, under pressure from Roth, threw an interception to Cardoza.
The Hawks drove down the field, getting a 22-yard gain from Roth on fourth-and-two to the 10-yard line. Three plays later, Roth went over the top from the one-yard line for a touchdown with 14 seconds left in the half to cut the lead to six at the half.
After the Hawks punted on the opening drive of the second half, Angel Lugo and Cardoza stuffed Hornbeak for a gain of one on fourth-and-two.
Two plays later, after a 12-yard run from Tyler Miller, Roth went around the left side for a 53-yard touchdown, his 15th 40-plus yard run of the season, to tie the score. Bradley Moon made the third of his five point afters for a 21-20 lead with 7:38 left in the third quarter.
A Moon interception led to another Liberty score. Moon returned the interception 30 yards to the four-yard line. Three plays later, Roth went up the middle for the touchdown and a 28-20 lead with four minutes left in the third.
Liberty forced two three-and-outs while Liberty also punted.
Rylan Howe added to the lead with a 15-yard run on third down to start another scoring drive. Roth followed with a 23-yard run to the 15-yard line.
The Hawks were forced into a field goal attempt from the seven-yard line. However, Chowchilla lined up offsides and the Hawks got a first down. One play later, Howe scored up the middle for a 15-point lead with 5:46 left in the game.
Chowchilla came back with three straight pass plays and a touchdown run from Hornbeak to cut the lead to eight with 4:08 left in the game.
The Hawks worked to run out the clock and converted a fourth-and-seven with a seven-yard run from Roth. Liberty eventually turned over the ball on downs with 1:22 left in the game.
Chowchilla had a chance and, while being pressured from Roth, Woolsey launched a ball down the field and was picked off by Moon to, essentially, end the game.