Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Tyler Miller hauls in a pass to set up a go-ahead touchdown in Friday’s Div. V playoff loss to the Dos Palos Broncos.
DOS PALOS — For three-and-a-half quarters, it seemed like those who made the Div. V Central Section football playoff seeding were wrong in placing the Liberty Hawks football team No. 14 to face No. 3 Dos Palos.
However, the Broncos scored a go-ahead touchdown with 4:31 left in the game and added a pick-6 for a 34-27 victory Friday to advance to the quarterfinals.
“They took advantage of the opportunities we gave them tonight,” head coach Mike Nolte said.
The Hawks turned the ball over three times, including the game-clinching interception. They also committed 11 penalties for 95 yards. Of Liberty’s 11 penalties, four were for a false start and another was a delay of game penalty.
“We answered with a few kids,” Nolte said. “We kept fighting and I’m proud of them for that. It sucks to end.”
Despite the gap in seeding, the two teams were evenly matched throughout the night. Liberty rushed for 136 yards while Dos Palos gained 107. The Broncos passed for 173 yards while Liberty’s Trevor Porter threw for 162. The two teams combined for 20 penalties. However, the biggest difference was the turnovers and an important kickoff return.
“That kickoff return was huge,” Nolte said. “I know we came back and scored, but that’s the difference in the football game. We turned the ball over a little in the second half, but they were doing a good job on defense handling us pretty good.”
Liberty jumped out to a 20-14 halftime lead, but after a third quarter touchdown, couldn’t do anything more. In the Hawks’ final five drives, they ran 16 plays, punted twice and turned the ball over three times.
After Liberty went three-and-out on its first possession, the Broncos drove down the field to get on the scoreboard.
One of the key plays of the drive was a 34-yard pass play to the halfback out of the backfield for 34 yards. Dos Palos gained 16 on third-and-one and scored from five yards out two plays later.
Liberty, keyed by a pass interference penalty, started to drive down the field, but turned the ball over on downs.
The Hawks’ defense stepped up after two gains for 40 yards to the Liberty 29-yard line. Tackles by Nick Anselmo, Landon Howe and Rylan Howe forced a field goal attempt, which was short.
After an initial first down, the Hawks punted on their next possession. However, tackles by David Portnoff and Anselmo forced a punt, which went for just 11 yards.
Porter found Stewart out of the backfield for an initial 46-yard touchdown, but a holding penalty was called downfield. Anselmo gained 10 yards and Howe gained three on fourth-and-one.
Tyler Miller gained 13 to the 10-yard line. On fourth-and-goal from the one, Porter found the end zone on a sneak to tie the game at seven after a Steven Pennington extra point with almost three minutes left in the half.
Liberty gained 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff because of a roughing the kicker penalty. However, the kick didn’t get into the end zone and Dos Palos returned the kick 99 yards the other direction for a 14-7 lead.
After the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, Porter hit Stewart out of the backfield. Stewart found an opening and sprinted down the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown to answer Dos Palos’ kickoff return and tie the score at 14.
On the next kickoff, Liberty’s Aramel Villa, instead of kicking it deep, popped a kick short to about the 35-yard line. Dos Palos muffed the kick and Conner Hiatt recovered at the Dos Palos 30-yard line.
On third-and-13, Porter scrambled and found an opening for 16 yards to the 17-yard line. Stewart then went around the left side for 13 yards to the four-yard line.
On third-and-goal, Porter kept the ball on the option and scored from five yards out. Pennington’s extra point went wide, but Liberty led 20-13 with 16 seconds left in the half.
Dos Palos opened the second half with a 48-yard touchdown pass to take a 21-20 lead in the third quarter.
Two plays later, Liberty fumbled and Dos Palos took over with momentum. Portnoff stuffed the Broncos after a yard. Landon Howe and Stewart broke up passes to turn the ball over on downs.
Liberty took over and got a pass completion to Stewart for 29 yards. Rylan Howe gained 11 yards to the 30-yard line. Porter then found Miller for 26 yards up the middle to the three-yard line. Two plays later, Miller got the option pitch and found the end zone for a 27-21 lead after a Villa point after.
It took Dos Palos just one play to regain the lead. The Broncos completed a 61-yard pass play for a 28-27 lead with four minutes left in the third.
From there, the Hawks couldn’t produce any more offense until late in the fourth quarter.
The Liberty defense gave its offense one more chance. Howe, Dominic Oberti and Dylan Cardoza combined to stuff the Broncos after a yard. Howe stuffed Dos Palos after two yards and Miller and Porter stuffed Dos Palos for no gain to force a punt.
However, three plays later, Michael Merrell picked off Porter and returned it 23 yards into the end zone for a 34-27 lead.
Dos Palos tried to go for two and scored, but a holding penalty negated the conversion. After another penalty, another two-point conversion try fell incomplete.
Porter completed a 16-yard pass to Stewart and then gained five more to Miller. A chop block penalty pushed the Hawks back 20 yards.
Porter was strip sacked on the next play and Dos Palos recovered to end the game.