Hawks battled tough with explosive Panthers
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Tyler Miller runs through the Washington Union defense during Friday’s loss. Miller rushed for a career-high 178 yards with two touchdowns.
EASTON — At the end of the night, Liberty Hawks football coach Mike Nolte was proud of the way his team battled until the end in a 49-30 loss to the Washington Union-Easton Panthers in North Sequoia League play.
The Hawks outgained the Panthers, 415-403, in total offense and ran almost three times as many plays (72-27) despite the loss of starting quarterback/linebacker Trevor Porter, starting halfback/free safety Quentin Stewart, fullback/inside linebacker Rylan Howe and guard Davey Pombo.
“You never like to be on the losing end of anything,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “They are a good offensive football team. We played really well on offense. I thought (quarterback) Diego (Piedra) took care of the ball well. I’m happy with the way they played. We have to get the next two.”
Despite the injuries, the Hawks got inspired play by its running attack. Out of the 72 plays, just two were passing. Tyler Miller played his best game as a Hawk, rushing for 178 yards on 31 carries with two touchdowns.
“I thought our running backs played well,” Nolte said. “Tyler played like a man tonight. He played well. I hope we get that kind of effort running from him the rest of the year.”
In addition, Steven Protzman, Stewart’s replacement, rushed for a career-high 140 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown. Fullback Nick Anslemo also rushed for 75 yards. In all, Liberty rushed for almost six yards per carry.
“We had some guys step up for sure,” Nolte said. “I’m proud of the guys and the way they fought and they kept fighting for 48 minutes. I can’t say enough about this team. I love my kids.”
However, the Hawks couldn’t match the explosiveness of Washington Union. While Liberty had five runs of 20 yards or more, Washington Union had 11 plays of 20 yards or more and three were for more than 20 yards, including an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Washington Union only ran seven offensive plays in the second half and scored on two of them.
The Panthers took the opening kickoff and went 66 yards on six plays for the first score of the game on a four-yard run. The drive was keyed by rushes of 24 and 27 yards.
Liberty came right back down the field. Miller opened the drive with a 14-yard run. Miller then gained seven on third-and-five and Protzman gained nine on another third-and-five.
The Hawks were stalled at the 17-yard line and Aramel Villa hit a 34-yard field goal midway through the first quarter.
Washington Union highlighted the next drive with a 53-yard double pass to move the ball to the two-yard line. The Panthers scored on the next play for a 14-3 lead.
Anselmo rushed 16 yards for a first down. On third-and-six, Miller gained 11 and gained another 14 to the two-yard line. Two plays later, Miller found the end zone on the first play of the second quarter to cut the lead to 14-10.
Washington Union scored five plays later with a 66-yard drive, capped by an eight-yard touchdown run.
After an initial first down, Washington Union forced a punt after a quarterback sack. Five plays later, the Panthers scored on a 28-yard pass play for a 28-10 lead with three minutes left in the first half.
Liberty drove into scoring position before the end of the first half, but villa missed a 39-yard field goal at the break.
The Hawks opened the second half with a 15-play, 77-yard drive for a touchdown. Despite a holding penalty, Protzman gained 26 yards on fourth-and-one. On fourth-and-two from the 34-yard line, Anselmo went up the middle and cut to the left for a 23 yard gain to the one yard line.
Three plays later, Protzman scored from a yard out to cut the lead to 28-16.
The Panthers scored on on the next offensive play with a 51-yard touchdown for a 35-16 lead.
After a Liberty punt, the Panthers scored two plays later on a 70-yard catch-and-run for a 42-16 lead.
Liberty then drove on the Panthers with a 10-play, 65-yard drive to get into the end zone.
Protzman gained 10 yards on second-and-four. Protzman then gained 10 on second-and-eight and then gained 12 more to get the ball to the three-yard line. Miller scored on the next play to cut the lead to 42-23.
However, the Panthers took the ensuing kickoff across the field and into the end zone from 80 yards away to extend the lead to 49-23, 20 secnds later.
Liberty kept battling when Miller opened the next drive with a 20-yard gain and a 15-yard Panthers’ face mask penalty. Protzman followed with a 31-yard gain around the left side to move the ball inside the five.
Two plays later, Nathan Vasquez scored his first touchdown of the season to cut the lead to 49-30.
Liberty forced a turnover on downs after tackles from John Levine, Etiel Baltierra, Vasquez and Dylan Cardoza.
Vasquez opened the final drive of the night with a 21-yard gain up the middle before the clock ran out.
Liberty travels to Kerman on Friday before hosting Chowchilla on the final week of the season.