Hawks headed to Valley Championship


Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune

Liberty’s Dominic Castaneda runs behind a Max Nulick (44) block en route to a 46-yard touchdown run for the Hawks’ first score in Friday’s upset victory over Boron.

BORON — If traveling to Reedley to defeat the top-seeded Immanuel Eagles wasn’t tough enough, traveling four hours to defeat the fourth-seeded Boron Bobcats satisfied head coach Mike Nolte’s Liberty Hawks.


The eighth-seeded Hawks defeated Boron 20-6 and proved they deserved to be in the championship game The well-traveled Hawks will head three hours southwest to Santa Maria to face No. 3 Righetti in the Div. V Central Section championship game on Friday.


However, the scales could seem to be tilted against the Hawks in the newly-created computer rankings playoff format created by the Central Section this season. Righetti is just two years removed from earning the No. 7 seed in the Div. II playoffs and three years removed from advancing to the Div. II Championship game in 2018. In addition, Righetti entered the playoffs with a 1-8 record. Because of the rankings, they were able to drop three divisions and are in the Div. V Championship game. Also, Liberty is a school of a little more than 600 students while Righetti has over 2,300 students.


However, for the Hawks, all of that doesn’t matter. They are in the championship game for the first time since winning the Div. IV championship in 2012.


Nolte said after defeating top seed Immanuel that it was his most satisfying win, but he said that again after Friday’s win.


“Each one tops the other,” Nolte said. “We’re back in the championship game and that’s where we wanted to be. We got off the bus and played well.”


The Hawks scored on their first drive of the game and never really looked back.


“We played great defense for the last four weeks,” Nolte said. “We were able to string some drives together and put some in the end zone.”


Dominic Castaneda is making a late run for The Madera Tribune’s Football Most Valuable Player award after winning it in the spring. He rushed for 166 yards and scored all three touchdowns. He also recorded another interception to give him a school-record 14 in his illustrious career.


Castaneda has rushed for 593 yards, averaging 148 yards per game, in LIberty’s four-game winning streak. He has scored nine touchdowns and has five interceptions. He now is 1,247 yards rushing this season and has scored 126 points (18 rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns and a fumble return for a touchdown). He also has 241 receiving yards, six interceptions and three fumble recoveries.


Although the Liberty defense allowed its first points in three games, they kept the Boron offense in control. Other than a 94-yard touchdown catch-and-run for Boron’s only touchdown and a last drive against a prevent defense, the Liberty defense remained in control.


“The defense is playing well,” Nolte said. “They will have to keep it up. We have another one.”


Other than the touchdown drive and the end of the game drive, the Liberty defense allowed 120 yards with two interceptions and a fumble recovery.


Caleb Sisco led the defense with 12 tackles and had the game-ending interception. Max Nulick added 12 tackles while Mitchell Whaley and Vince Oberti had 11 each. The Hawks combined for seven tackles for losses.


On the stat sheet, the two teams looked rather similar. Both teams earned 12 first downs. Boron gained 265 yards while Liberty gained 263. Both teams had four penalties for 35 yards. Liberty was 2-of-10 on third down conversions while Boron was 3-of-11.


The Liberty defense of Davey Pombo, Nulick, Diego Rojas and Whaley forced a Boron punt on the game’s first drive.


Liberty drove down the field to score the first touchdown of the game. Whaley gained five for a first down to the 45-yard line. Two plays later, Castaneda got the carry on an inside counter. He ran through and away from the Boron defense for a 46-yard touchdown run. Whaley’s extra point gave the Hawks a 7-0 lead five minutes into the game.


Both teams went back and forth, but the Hawks got the ball into Boron territory in the second quarter after a Castaneda 13-yard run. However, a false start penalty, a holding penalty and a sack forced the Hawks to punt.


Castaneda’s punt pinned the Bobcats at their own six. Facing a third-and-7, Boron threw deep and found Demonti Hill for a 94-yard catch-and-run. The point after pass fell incomplete and Liberty led 7-6 with 7:36 left in the first half.


The Hawks immediately responded. Castaneda got a first down with a five-yard run. On fourth-and-five, quarterback Nathan Medina rolled out and found Whaley, who broke a tackle and gained 22, to the seven. Two plays later, Castaneda found the end zone around the right side for a 13-6 lead with 4:06 left in the first half.


Boron got the ball into Liberty territory, but Castaneda picked off a pass at the end of the first half.


Boron got the ball back in good field position to open the second half, but a bad pitch turned into a fumble recovery by Rojas.

However, the Hawks gave the ball right back with a fumble two plays later.


Boron quickly got two first downs, but was forced to punt.


After a Liberty drive ended with a punt, Boron got three first downs on its next drive. A tackle for loss by Whaley and Nulick, a tackle by Nulick and Oberti, and another by Sisco and Medina forced a punt.


Castaneda gained 27 on the first play of the drive, but the Hawks fumbled and Boron recovered.


The Liberty defense forced another three-and-out and the Hawks drove down the field to try to finish out the game.


The Hawks took over with 6:36 left in the game and took more than five minutes on an 11-play, 52-yard drive.


The key play came when the Hawks faced a fourth-and-six from the 21. Nolte turned to Castaneda and he battled for a 12-yard gain to the nine.


Two plays later, Castaneda scored on a counter run. Christian Haney hit the extra point for a 20-6 lead with 1:18 left in the game.


Boron completed some passes down the field and had a first and goal at the five. Two plays later, Sisco picked off the Boron pass and closed out the Liberty victory.

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