Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty receiver Aramel Villa reaches up for a 41-yard pass during the third quarter of Friday’s playoff loss to Lindsay.
After finishing the regular season with a 9-1 record, including winning the North Sequoia League championship, the Liberty Hawks football team picked a bad day to play a bad game.
The fourth seeded Hawks, who lost just four fumbles all season, fumbled three times, which led to two Lindsay Cardinals touchdowns in the first round of the Div. V playoffs.
“It was a bad day to play a bad game,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “We had some bad things happen early in the first quarter. We got on top, but dropped the ball again and they capitalized on it. It was a constant fight back. I give Lindsay a lot of credit. They took advantage of some of the things we gave them. They did their homework.”
The 13th-seeded Cardinals got a field goal with eight seconds left in the game for a 37-34 upset victory over the Hawks on Friday.
“When you get into the playoffs and turn the ball over, it’s not good,” Nolte said. “You have to take care of the football. If we take care of the football, we win the game.”
The loss overshadowed one of the best individual seasons in Liberty history. Running back Wyatt Roth rushed for 240 yards on 29 carries, averaging more than eight yards a carry while scoring three more touchdowns.
Roth reached milestones no other Liberty player has ever been close too. He is the first back with more than 2,000 yards rushing (2,119), first with more than 4,000 career rushing yards (4,011), and with more than 200 points (222). He beat the single season rushing record by 368 yards and the career record by 335 yards. He also recorded six 200-yard rushing games, including two of more than 260 yards.
The Hawks fumbled five plays into their opening drive and Lindsay began its offense at the 25-yard line. However, the Liberty defense held on fourth down.
Two plays later, the Hawks fumbled, again, and Lindsay recovered. Lindsay scored on the next play for a 6-0 lead with seven minutes left in the game.
The Hawks then went on a 15-play, 89-yard drive to take the lead. Roth gained 17 yards on second down and 12 on third-and-10. Roth gained 13 to the Lindsay 28-yard line. Roth then gained eight on third-and-seven and eight on third-and-two for a first down at the one. Nolte called for Roth, again,run and Bradley Moon’s first of four extra points gave the Hawks a 7-6 lead.
The Hawks forced a three-and-out on Lindsay’s next possession.
Highlighted by a 30-yard Roth run, the Hawks added to their lead on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Bradley Miller to Moon in the end zone for a 14-6 lead with 9:39 left in the half.
Lindsay answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive for a touchdown with four minutes left in the first half. The Cardinals missed on their second extra point and Liberty led 14-12.
The Hawks answered Lindsay’s touchdown. Miller launched a pass down the field and Aramel Villa made an adjustment to catch the ball over the Lindsay defensive back for a 41-yard gain. Roth scored from 21 yards out on the next play for a 20-12 lead after the extra point snap was bobbled.
The Cardinals countered with a six-play, 76-yard touchdown drive that was kept alive by a defensive holding penalty on a third down incompletion. The conversion was missed for a
20-18 Liberty lead at the half.
Three plays into the second half, the Hawks looked to have grabbed the momentum after Nick Hayes recovered a Lindsay fumble at the Lindsay 39-yard line. However, two plays later, Liberty fumbled and Lindsay took over.
Seven plays later, the Cardinals were in the end zone on a quarterback keeper. The two-point conversion was made and the Cardinals led 26-20.
The Hawks battled back with a 12-play, 78-yard drive to reclaim the lead. the key play was a 25-yard pass from Miller to Roth to the two-yard line. Roth scored on the next play for a 27-26 lead after Moon’s conversion with three minutes left in the third.
David Portnoff and William Bucaroff stuffed Lindsay for no gain on third-and-two. On fourth down, Lindsay tried a fake punt pass, but it went incomplete.
Liberty earned a pair of first downs, including a 16-yard run to the 15-yard line. Rylan Howe scored up the middle on the next play for a 34-26 lead five seconds into the fourth quarter.
Two plays later, Moon picked off Lindsay and the Hawks took over with momentum.
Two plays into the drive, Roth split the Lindsay defense to score on a 53-yard touchdown run. However, Liberty was called for a questionable holding penalty and the touchdown was nullified.
The Hawks were forced to punt three plays later.
The Liberty defense forced a Lindsay punt with seven minutes left in the game. However, the Hawks gained just two yards and had to punt.
The Cardinals went on an 11-play, 43-yard drive that was helped by a pair of questionable officiating flags. On fourth-and-12, Lindsay threw incomplete, but the Hawks were called for pass interference despite not hitting the receiver until after the pass got to the receiver.
On third-and-goal from the 11, Lindsay threw into the end zone. The receiver stopped his route and the ball fell incomplete. However, Liberty was called for a pass interference penalty and gave Lindsay second life. The Cardinals scored on the next play to cut the lead to two. Lindsay completed a pass for the two-point conversion to tie the score at 34.
The Hawks went three-and-out on their possession to take the lead and had to punt.
The Cardinals completed a 19-yard pass to get to the Liberty 30-yard line. A 10-yard pass moved the ball to the 15. Three plays later, Emiliano Corona hit a 29-yard field goal with eight seconds left.
The Hawks threw incomplete on their final two plays of the game and had their season end.