Hawks advance to quarterfinals


Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune

Liberty running back Mitchell Whaley gets an escort from Dominic Castaneda to score Friday’s first touchdown in a 27-0 Div. V first-round playoff victory over Cesar Chavez.

 

For the first time in seven years, the Liberty Hawks football team is advancing to the quarterfinals of the Div. V Central Section playoffs.


The eighth-seeded Hawks used a dominating defensive performance for the second straight week for 27-0 victory over No. 9 Cesar Chavez-Delano on Friday.


“We had a good scheme this week to put guys in the right spot to make plays,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “The kids really responded. The guys up front did a good job. Our linebackers were flying around.”


After holding the Chowchilla Tribe to just 78 yards of total offense two weeks ago, the Liberty defense allowed just 125 yards of total offense for their second straight shutout.


Both Mitchell Whaley and Vince Oberti had outstanding games on both sides of the ball. Whaley led the team with 17 tackles (most since Kaleb Roth had 23 in 2017), led the team with 13 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown, and also led the team with three receptions for nine yards.


Oberti had 14 tackles and led the team with seven solo tackles. He also rushed for a touchdown and recovered a fumble caused by Max Nulick.


Not to be outdone, Dominic Castaneda had two interceptions and returned a fumble 80 yards for a touchdown. He rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown and also had his best game punting the ball with a 37.5 average.


The Hawks drove the ball on the Titans with two touchdowns in the first half and an interception after Liberty was in the red zone. However, the Liberty defense kept giving the Hawks a short field and the offense’s longest scoring drive was 45 yards.


“I thought we played with great energy. Our defense played a really good game. They caught us on our heels on the opening kickoff, but the defense stepped up to give us the ball back.”


The Hawks next get a rematch with top-seeded Immanuel in Reedley in the quarterfinals on Friday. The Hawks lost to the Eagles a few weeks ago when a potential game-tying point after sailed wide with 39 seconds left in the game.


Chavez popped up the opening kick-off and it went off the hands of Diego Rojas and the Titans recovered. Rojas later redeemed himself with an offensive fumble recovery that later led to a score.


The defense stepped up to turn the ball over on downs. Oberti, Rojas and Whaley made tackles to force a fourth-and-two. After a penalty moved the Titans back five yards, Chavez tried a pass, but Oberti tackled the receiver for no gain and Liberty took possession.


Liberty faced a fourth-and-one on its first drive, but Castaneda gained three. Castaneda gained 12 to the 36-yard line. Whaley gained seven and 15 yards were added with a face mask penalty.


However, two plays later, Chavez picked off a pass at the five-yard line.


“We moved the ball right away and that was really encouraging,” Nolte said. “I was worried about their size and our size up front and being able what we like to do.”


Although the LIberty defense allowed an initial first down, they forced a punt. Rojas stuffed Chavez for a loss of one and Whaley and Jared Nolte stuffed Chavez after a gain of one. After an incomplete pass, Chavez punted.


On fourth-and-one, Castaneda gained the yard for a first down. On the next play, Whaley went right up the middle and Castaneda escorted him into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown run with 30 seconds left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.


Chavez earned an initial first down. However, the Titans went backwards. Oberti and Nolte combined on a sack. Caleb Sisco and Mitchell Whaley stuffed a ball carrier after four yards. Then, Nulick hit the Chavez quarterback to force the ball loose. Oberti picked it up and the Hawks were in business at the Chavez 25-yard line.


Whaley gained six. On the next play, but Castaneda went around the right side and saw nothing but green grass for a 19-yard touchdown with 8:34 left in the first half.


Chavez used the no-huddle offense to drive deep into Liberty territory. They gained 11 on third-and-13 and then three on fourth-and-two. After Nulick stuffed Chavez for no gain on third-and-two, an offsides penalty gave the Titans a first down.


The Titans got a first and goal at the three after a seven-yard gain. Oberti stopped Chavez after a gain of two. On the next play, the snap went over the Chavez quarterback’s head. After attempts to pick up the ball, Castaneda scooped it up at the 20-yard line and went the rest of the way for the touchdown on the final play of the half.


It turned what could have a 14-7 Liberty lead at the half to a 21-0 lead.


“We were talking about that walking in at halftime that we got a ball to bounce our way,” Coach Nolte said. “It took a lot of life out of a football team, especially when they were down close. Fortunately for us, we took advantage of that.”


The second half started slow for both teams. Chavez punted on their first possession, but the Hawks also had to punt.


The Titans were helped by a pass interference penalty, but faced a fourth-and-7. A long pass to 15-yard line was picked off by Castaneda and the Hawks regained possession.


However, Liberty, again, went three-and-out.


“Luke (McFarland, starting quarterback) went down and it’s a little bit of an adjustment period,” Nolte said. “Nathan (Medina, back-up quarterback) hadn’t taken a snap since the first game of the year. I wanted to give him some easy plays early. He completed a pass. We moved the ball well enough. We had field position all night.”


The defense stepped up to give the ball back to Liberty. Whaley stuffed the ball carrier for a loss of six and Rojas pressured the quarterback into an incomplete pass to force a punt.


The Hawks went down the field for their final touchdown of the game. Whaley gained seven on third-and seven. Whaley gained another nine for a first down. On second down, Whaley carried the ball to the five, but was stripped of the ball. Rojas landed on it at the four. Two plays later, Oberti punched it in for a 27-0 lead with 7:58 left in the game.


On the next play, Castaneda picked off Chavez for their fourth turnover.


Liberty drove down for a possible score. Whaley led off the drive with a 13-yard gain. Castaneda gained 15 to the right. The Hawks lost nine yards and Christian Haney’s field goal attempt hit the crossbar and fell short.


Chavez got the ball back, but time ran out for a second straight dominant Liberty victory.

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