Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty defensive lineman David Portnoff makes the tackle on a Chavez ball carrier during Friday’s loss. Portnoff led the linemen with nine tackles with a tackle for loss.
DELANO — Things were looking up for the Liberty Hawks early in its non-league match-up with the Cesar Chavez Titans.
However, a fumble halted a potential scoring drive and a bend-but-not-break defense finally gave in during a two touchdown fourth quarter for Chavez in a 29-21 victory to give the Hawks their first loss of the season.
Liberty scored 21 points in the first quarter, but its subsequent seven drives resulted in a fumble, a safety, three punts, a turnover on downs and the end of the game. Besides the final drive of the game, Liberty’s second half offense gained just 31 yards.
“We did have poor field position,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “We had one drive in the third quarter for minus yards. We just weren’t prepared good enough for their pressure. We weren’t ready for their pressure and that was my fault.”
Quentin Stewart led the Hawks with more than 200 yards from scrimmage, including 149 yards rushing and two touchdowns. However, he rushed for -2 yards in the second half. Trevor Porter threw for a career-high 133 yards and rushed for a touchdown.
Despite the lack of offense for the Hawks in the second half, the defense stiffened up after long drives by the Titans. Liberty forced two fumbles and held the Titans on downs on their first three second half drives deep in Liberty territory.
“I think we played pretty good defense all night,” Nolte said. “They are a good offensive football team. The second half, we couldn’t get anything done on offense.”
After taking the opening kickoff, it took the Hawks six plays to get on the scoreboard. The key play in the drive was a 46-yard pass play to Stewart to move the ball to the three-yard line. Stewart finished the drive on the next play for a 7-0 lead.
Chavez followed with a seven-play drive that ended with a 28-yard touchdown catch to tie the score.
Liberty then drove 84 yards on seven plays to take the lead. The key play was a 50-yard pass completion from Porter to Tyler Miller to move the ball deep into Chavez territory.
Three plays later, Porter hit Miller, again, for a 16-yard catch to the nine-yard line. Stewart scored a touchdown on the next play for a 14-7 lead.
The Liberty defense forced a punt and the Hawks, again, drove down the field. After a five-yard Chavez punt, Porter scored on the third play of the drive from 19 yards out on an option keeper for a 21-7 lead with three seconds left in the quarter.
Chavez answered with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a six-yard touchdown run by quarterback Cameron Huerta. Although it looked as though Huerta dropped the ball on a dive into the end zone. The ball rolled out of bounds and should have been a Liberty touchback.
Liberty got a 12-yard run from Stewart, followed by another 14-yard run to the Chavez 40. Nick Anselmo carried for 10 yards, but lost the football and Chavez recovered.
“That fumble was tough,” Nolte said. “We play a good second half and handle them a little better, it’s a different game. Credit to Chavez. They brought it and we weren’t ready for it.”
Both teams were held off the scoreboard the rest of the half. Chavez took the second half kickoff and drove down the field, including a 23-yard run play to the Liberty 27-yard line. The Titans got a first down at the 12-yard line.
However, Huerta dropped a hand-off and Porter was there for the recover.
Unfortunately, the Hawks couldn’t get any offense going from its own 17-yard line and punted three plays later.
The Titans began another long drive, this one for 15 plays leading to the Liberty six-yard line.
The Titans converted four third downs, including a third-and-13 to keep the drive alive. The Titans took the ball to the one-yard line before a false start penalty moved them back. Jarred Dotson stopped Chavez after a gain of two.
After another false start penalty, Porter and Dominic Oberti stopped Huerta after a three-yard gain. On fourth down, Huerta threw incomplete and the Hawks took over.
The Hawks were forced to punt the ball after gaining just five yards on the drive.
The Ttans carried into the red zone. Liberty’s Sam Cato-Scott stripped Chavez of the ball and recovered the fumble at the two-yard line. However, Stewart couldn’t get out of the end zone on Liberty’s next play for a Titans’ safety and cut Liberty’s lead to 21-16.
The Titans then drove 40 yards on eight plays to score a go-ahead touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the three with another Huerta run with 3:47 left in the game.
Liberty had another three-and-out and Huerta gave the Titans an eight-point lead with a 77-yard touchdown run for a 29-21 lead with about two minutes left in the game.
Liberty tried to come back. Porter hit Stewart for 27-yards on fourth-and-10. Porter just missed connecting with Aramel Villa and Stewart on potential touchdown passes.
Porter hit Stewart for 13-yards and 13 again, on third-and-10, to move the ball to the nine-yard line with 22 seconds left. However, Porter was forced to get rid of the ball on the next play and Anselmo was tackled inbounds and time ran out on the Hawks.
Liberty, finally, gets to play in front of its fans on Friday against Delano’s other high school — Kennedy.