Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty quarterback Trevor Porter eludes a tackler during Friday’s narrow victory over the Mendota Aztecs. Porter accounted for 157 yards in the win.
MENDOTA — In one of its lowest scoring totals in the past few years, the Liberty Hawks did just enough to overcome three fourth quarter turnovers in a 17-14 victory over the Mendota Aztecs.
Despite outgaining the Aztecs by 175 yards in the game, including 107 yards in the second half, three Liberty fumbles gave the Aztecs second life. It was an onsides kick recovery by Chris Imirian that sealed the game for the Hawks.
“We moved the ball pretty good in the second half,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “We had some unfortunate turnovers that kept them in the game. Short of those, I think we put another couple of touchdowns on the board and it’s not even close. It is what it is. That’s the way the game is played. Mendota fought hard and they stayed in it even though we were moving the ball. They kept their poise and played us tough.”
For the second week in a row, the Hawks’ conditioning helped them in the second half. While many Mendota players were on their backs stretching out leg cramps, the Hawks were driving up and down the field, totaling 188 second half rushing yards, 107 more than their first half total.
“They loaded up the box and made it tough to run the football,” Nolte said. “That’s what they like to do. They want to stop what they like to do and be good at it. I think we’re good at stopping the run, too. That’s what we like to do. They have some pretty good players and have some players that are fast and physical.”
The Liberty defense held the Aztecs to just seven yards rushing in the second half and 64 yards in the game. However, Mendota recovered three of Liberty’s six fumbles to stay in the game. Of Liberty’s five fourth quarter drives, three ended in fumbles, including two on the first play of a drive.
“We have to shore that stuff up,” Nolte said. “We have to play a much more solid game. We’re a much better team than we showed tonight. I think we’re also a football team that has a lot of heart and a lot of fight.”
Quarterback Trevor Porter led the Liberty offense. Although Quentin Stewart and Tyler Miller scored touchdowns, Porter led the team with 157 yards of total offense. He threw for 102 yards on 5-of-7 passing and also rushed for 55 yards on 10 carries, including four for first downs.
David Portnoff led the defense with eight tackles, including 1.5 quarterback sacks. Brad Wallace had two tackles while the Hawks forced 27 negative yards from the Aztecs. Stewart and Miller had interceptions while Dominic Oberti forced and recovered a fumble.
Liberty took the opening kickoff and marched 50 yards on seven plays to put the first points on the board. The key play in the drive was a 46-yard pass completion from Trevor Porter, to Miller to the Mendota 23-yard line.
However, Liberty was stalled by a penalty and Aramel Villa knocked in a 37-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The Hawks later marched down the field on a 13-play drive. Stewart started the drive with an 11-yard run. He gained nine more on second down and Miller rushed for six yards for another first down. Miller gained 14 yards to the eight-yard line.
On fourth-and-goal from the six, Porter handed the ball to Stewart on an inside counter. Stewart bounced off a tackler and went into the end zone for the touchdown. Steven Pennington’s extra point gave the Hawks a 10-0 lead with eight minutes left in the first half.
The Aztecs answered with a 12-play, 80-yard drive to cut the lead down to three. The key play was a 16-yard run on a fake punt for a first down. A 20-yard pass completion moved the ball into the red zone and the Aztecs scored four plays later from eight yards out with 2:33 left in the first half.
Wallace forced a punt on Mendota’s first possession of the second half with a quarterback sack.
The Hawks used eight straight run plays, including a 10-yard run by Stewart, to get to the Aztecs’ 32-yard line. However, after a penalty, the Hawks turned the ball over on downs at their own 25-yard line.
A tackle for loss from Nick Anselmo forced another Mendota punt.
Porter began the next drive with a 31-yard catch-and-run to Miller to get the ball into Mendota territory. Porter carried himself on an option keeper for 11-yards. On another option, Porter pitched to Miller for a 14-yard touchdown and a 16-7 lead. Pennington’s extra point opened a 10-point lead.
Liberty’s defense forced another stop. Mendota used the hook-and-ladder trick play for a 43-yard gain. However, two plays later, Oberti forced the ball loose and landed on it for a recovery.
The Hawks got a 40-yard run from Anselmo to move into Mendota territory. Porter gained six on third-and-one for a first down. However, Liberty fumbled on the next play and Mendota recovered.
Wallace and Portnoff sacked Mendota for a loss of four. After a 10-yard pass play, Portnoff records another sack and Mendota had to punt from its own four-yard line.
The Hawks begin another drive and moved to the 35-yard line after an Anselmo first down run. However, the Hawks turned the ball over on downs from the 30-yard line.
On the next play, Mendota tried to hit a receiver up the middle. Free safety Stewart was there to tip the ball up and catch it for the interception.
Unfortunately, Mendota forced another Liberty fumble on the very next play and jumped on it for the recovery from their own 29.
Mendota started to drive with a 13-yard pass play for a first down to midfield. A 16-yard gain moved the ball to the 26-yard line. However, Mendota tried for the end zone, but Miller was there for the interception.
Again, Mendota forced a turnover on the next Liberty play. The Liberty ball carrier was stripped of the ball and Mendota took over at the Liberty 20.
Five plays later, the Aztecs found paydirt with a seven-yard pass play with 2:03 left in the game.
The Aztecs tried an onsides kick, but Imirian gathered the ball in for the Hawks. After Porter kept the ball himself for a first down, the Hawks took a knee to run out a three-point victory.
Liberty remain on the road this week traveling to Delano to face Cesar Chavez High School.