Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Quentin Stewart breaks out of a tackle during Friday’s victory over Chowchilla. Stewart rushed for more than 100 yards and scored two touchdowns.
The Liberty Hawks football team scored three touchdowns off Chowchilla turnovers to keep from going winless in the North Sequoia League in a 33-7 victory to close out the regular season.
The Hawks, who won the 2018 NSL championship, scored all 33 of their points after Chowchilla drove down the field for the opening touchdown of the game.
“This was the one of the first games all year where we won the turnover battle,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “We got a fumble and three picks. We didn’t turn the ball over. That was a huge factor in tonight’s game.”
In addition to forcing four turnovers, the Hawks’ defense allowed just 188 yards of total offense, including just 80 yards on the ground, averaging less than three yards a carry.
Rylan Howe led the Hawks with eight tackles. Trevor Porter, Tyler Miller, David Portnoff and Brad Wallace each recorded seven tackles. Portnoff and Jon Franklin each had two tackles for losses. Miller picked off two passes, Quentin Stewart had the other and Wallace recovered a fumble forced by Portnoff.
Meanwhile, Liberty rushed for 256 yards, led by Stweart, who had 102 yards. Howe was a big factor leading the Hawks with 14 carries for 61 yards. Quarterback Trevor Porter even threw for 106 yards and two touchdowns to Miller.
“We really thought going in that the fullback game was going to be good for us and it turned out that way,” Nolte said. “We got some big plays and was able to hit them big for some big plays on the outside. We got some big pass plays in the second half was huge for us.”
The Hawks honored their 19 seniors with one of their best all-around performances of the season in the final regular season game. Liberty continues in the postseason playing at No. 3 Dos Palos in the Div. V Central Section playoffs. After a 1-3 record in the NSL, the Hawks received the No. 14 seed in Friday’s game.
“It’s huge to see these kids come in with a smile,” Nolte said. “These are great kids and I love coaching them. I wish our record could be better. Next week, everybody is 0-0.”
After both teams couldn’t get anything going on their first drives of the game, the Tribe opened the scoring.
The key play in the drive was a 32-yard pass play from Tony Woolsey to Jaylinn Gaines. That was followed by a Bobby Faddis 16-yard run. Three plays later, Woolsey, scrambling away from trouble, found Faddis at the sideline for an 11-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead with 5:46 left in the first quarter.
Liberty answered right back. Conner Hiatt electrified the Senior Night crowd by taking a short kick, running to his right and sprinting down the sideline for a 45-yard kickoff return, the longest by any Liberty player this season.
Miller and Stewart began the drive with back-to-back six-yard runs for a first down to the four-yard line. Three plays later, Stewart found the end zone from two yards out. Although Liberty missed the extra point for the first time this season, the Hawks trailed 7-6 with 3:34 left in the first quarter.
The Tribe started another drive with an 18-yard gain by Darian Lopez and a first down pass play to Lopez. However, Woolsey overthrew his intended receiver and Miller picked it off and returned it 19 yards to the Liberty 44-yard line.
Three plays later, Stewart got the ball on a sweep to the left. He got a key block from Miller and another down the field from Aramel Villa to score on a 49-yard run. Steven Pennington hit the extra point for a 13-7 lead a minute into the second quarter.
The Tribe converted on fourth down when Lopez, in punt formation, ran for four yards and a first down.
However tackles from Howe, Dominic Oberti, Wallace and Miller and a sack from Franklin forced a punt.
Porter kept the next drive going with a 22-yard pass to Stewart. Porter then kept the ball on an option for 10 more yards. Howe gained eight more for a first down. The Hawks moved the ball to the 25-yard line before settling for a field goal on the final play of the first half.
However, Chowchilla’s Jason Pope broke free to block the field goal attempt to end the first half trailing by six.
After Liberty opened the second half punting, Chowchilla tried another fake punt run, but Oberti stopped Lopez after two yards on fourth-and-five.
Howe kept the next drive going with a five-yard run on third-and-four. However, the Hawks were hit with a chop block penalty and a false start penalty to face a second-and-26 from the 44-yard line.
Porter wasn’t fazed and launched a ball down the left sideline. Miller ran under the ball, broke underneath the cornerback to make the catch and outran him 26 more yards into the end zone for a touchdown and a 19-7 lead with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
Liberty got the ball right back. After Dylan Cardoza stuffed the Tribe for a loss of one, the Hawks’ defense got the ball back for the offense. Portnoff tackled Woolsey from behind and forced the ball loose. Wallace jumped on it for the recovery at the Tribe 33-yard line.
Three plays later, Porter hit Miller after a double move for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Aramel Villa’s extra point was good and Liberty led 26-7 with 2:32 left in the third quarter.
The Tribe got an initial first down on its ensuing drive. Miller picked off Woolsey, again, and returned the ball 26 yards into Chowchilla territory to set the Hawks’ offense.
Howe opened the drive with a six-yard gain and Porter pitched to Steven Protzman for 14 yards and a first down. Stewart gained 20 yards on the next play for a first down at the Tribe 11.
Three straight runs by Howe resulted in a two-yard touchdown with 10:33 left in the first quarter for a 33-7 lead.
The Tribe started to move the ball down the field on the Hawks. Woolsey hit Lopez for 25 yards and then found Devn Guthrie for 13 yards to the 12-yard line.
Portnoff stuffed Lopez for a loss of two and then forced Woolsey to scramble on the next drive. Wooley threw into the end zone, but Stewart leaped high to make the interception in the end zone to give the Hawks the ball.
The Hawks then ran out the clock with some of their reserves. Protzman gained 26 yards for a first down. Stewart gained 10 more for another first down. Tyler Person gained nine for a first down and Nathan Vasquez closed out the game with a three-yard run on third down for a first down.