Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Tyler Miller finds the open field to score on a 14-yard touchdown run in Friday’s 28-17 loss to the Kerman Lions. The Hawks return home Friday to host Chowchilla in the regular season finale.
KERMAN — The Liberty Hawks football team had visions of its first North Sequoia League victory of the season, but missed opportunities and mistakes at the wrong time hindered them in a 28-17 loss to the Kerman Lions.
The Hawks had two fourth quarter interceptions and two other quality drives end because of penalties. Meanwhile, Kerman took advantage of Liberty’s mistakes, including a long touchdown on the final play of the first half and an interception return for a touchdown to seal the game.
“We had some bad things happen to us, but we have to be able to overcome that stuff,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “They made some plays. We gave them opportunities to make plays and they did. I thought our kids played hard. Mistakes and penalties hurt us and they capitalized on us.”
The Hawks outgained the Lions (350-304), but couldn’t score on its final four possessions of the game.
Friday’s game saw the return of Quentin Stewart, who missed the last game with an injury. Although his replacement Steven Protzman filled in admirably (140 yards rushing with two touchdowns), Stewart made his presence felt with a 69-yard touchdown run, breaking a few tackles along the way. He finished with 149 yards rushing to lead the Hawks. Tyler Miller added 63 yards on 19 carries.
For most of the game, it looked like Kerman was kept contained by the Liberty defense. The Hawks, led by Brad Wallace’s nine tackles and David Portnoff’s eight, forced the Lions into five punts with three three-and-outs. In 33 Kerman rushes, 13 went for one-yard or less resulting in 39 negative yards even though the Lions rushed for 152 yard total.
The Hawks looked like they were going to be a force Friday night. They held Kerman to a three-and-out, including a quarterback sack from Wallace, to force a punt.
The Hawks methodically drove down the field, keyed by an 18-yard run by Tyler Miller. However, a holding penalty moved the Hawks back and Aramel Villa hit a 38-yard field goal for the lead.
The Hawks’ defense forced another punt. Liberty got a big play with a 38-yard pass play to Villa to midfield. However, the Hawks turned the ball over on downs.
Two plays later, Kerman quarterback Gavin Layton rushed for 32 yards and then handed off to Jonah Acosta for a 23-yard touchdown run for a 7-3 lead with 1:13 left in the first quarter.
The Hawks got two first downs on its next drive. Porter hit Villa with an 11-yard pass for a first down and Stewart gained two on fourth-and-one. However, a false start penalty stalled the drive and the Hawks punted.
Despite a questionable pass interference on the Hawks, Liberty’s defense, led by John Franklin, forced a Kerman punt.
Two plays later, Stewart got the handoff going left. He bounced off a tackler, spun off another and outran the rest of the Kerman defense for a 69-yard touchdown run. Steven Pennington’s extra point gave the Hawks a 10-7 lead with four minutes left in the first half.
A reverse pass back to Layton keyed Kerman’s next drive. After the 25-yard gain, Layton hit his receiver for a 50-yard gain to the one-yard line.
However, the Lions went backwards from there. Nick Anselmo stuffed Kerman for a loss of four. A holding penalty moved the Lions back. Layton threw a touchdown pass, but another penalty nullified the score. After an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Kerman faced a second-and-goal from the 35-yard line.
On the next play, Layton scrambled away from Liberty pass rushers and launched a ball to the end zone that found the hands of Bryan Valdez for a touchdown with four seconds left. The extra point gave the Lions a 14-10 lead going into the half.
“That was a huge swing going into halftime,” Nolte said. “I thought we rebounded well and drove for a touchdown at the beginning of the second half.”
Liberty came out to the second half and put together a 12-play, 68-yard drive to take the lead.
Rylan Howe gained four on third-and-two. Stewart gained 22 yards, however, he was hit with a leaping penalty and cost the Hawks 15 yards. Liberty recovered when Stewart gained five on third-and-four.
Stewart went around the left side for 18 yards to the 24-yard line. Stewart then gained seven on third-and-seven. Tyler Miller found some openings and made his way to the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown run for a 17-14 Liberty lead with 5:55 left in the third quarter.
Portnoff stuffed Kerman for a loss of five to force a long third down and Kerman punted. The offense faced a third-and-three, but two penalties halted the drive and the Hawks punted.
After a 27-yard pass play, the Lions scored on a 30-yard run through the middle of the Liberty defense for a 21-17 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Liberty converted two first downs on its next drive, but Layton picked off the Hawks.
However, the defense stepped up again. Howe stuffed the Lions for a gain of one. Miller stopped Layton for a loss of two. Layton threw incomplete with two penalties and punted.
Liberty took over with five minutes left in the game. Unfortunately, Trevor Porter was intercepted by Layton and Layton eluded many Liberty tacklers for a 56-yard interception return for a touchdown for a 28-17 lead with three minutes left.
Porter hit Jarrod Dotson for 11 yards to open the next drive. He found Miller for 13 and a Kerman personal foul moved the ball to the 15.
Stewart went around the left side for five more yard, but he leaped over another defender, resulting in another penalty. The Hawks turned the ball over on downs three plays later and the Lions ran out the clock.