Hawks battle back for OT win
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty running back Vince Oberti runs through a big hold during Friday’s overtime victory over Fowler. Oberti rushed for 121 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
The Liberty Hawks football team found themselves in a two touchdown hole heading into the fourth quarter of a pivotal Northwest Sierra League game with the Fowler Redcats.
The Hawks scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the final with 38 seconds left, and added another in overtime while shutting out the Redcats for a 35-28 victory Friday night to remain undefeated.
“It’s a big win,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “With it being such a battle and us battling back to tie it and win it in overtime, it’s a big win for the kids. Hopefully, we can carry that win into next week and not have any let downs.”
Liberty running back and linebacker Vince Oberti is putting his name on the list of one of the best players in the Central Section with another great game. He rushed for 121 yards and scored three touchdowns. He also had a long catch of 31 yards. Oberti had seven tackles and had the key interception that led to the game-tying touchdown.
“Oberti played well on offense, as we expect him to,” Nolte said. “He came up with a huge interception.”
The Hawks seemed to wear down he Redcats in the second half. After taking a 28-14 lead, Fowler’s next four possessions were punt, interception, end of regulation and interception in overtime. Liberty outgained Fowler 368-318 and ran 15 more plays while earning eight more first downs (23-15).
Liberty was also efficient on third down, converting eight of 14 and then converted two of three on fourth downs.
“For the most part, we moved the ball pretty good for the entire game,” Nolte said. “We have to eliminate the turnovers, obviously.”
Quarterback Luke McFarland threw two touchdowns to Max Nulick in his second 100-plus yard game of the season. Caleb Sisco added 69 yards rushing to help the team total of 225 yards.
“We like running the rock, and we did that,” Nolte said. “That was the battle cry at halftime was to just get me the three yards and quit trying to break it to the outside and make a big play all of the time. We were getting good yards when we would go at them. The negative yards came when we went to the outside. I’m glad the kids took it to heart.”
Momentum seemed to go Liberty’s way to open the game. Sisco had a tackle and broke up a third down pass to force a Fowler punt.
The Hawks opened with a 10-play, 47-yard touchdown drive to score first. Oberti gained four on third-and-1. Then, Oberti gained five on third-and-4. McFarland hit Nulick for a 12-yard pass to the 11.
After two runs for losses, McFarland lofted a ball to the end zone. Nulick went up with one hand and brought it down for a highlight-reel catch and a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Redcats responded with a scoring drive. Fowler got two quick first downs and then completed a 31-yard pass to the Liberty 15-yard line.
A bad snap pushed the Redcats back 21 yards, but it didn’t phase Fowler. They hit a 36-yard pass up the seam for a touchdown to trail, 7-6, after the point after was missed.
McFarland opened the next drive with a 31-yard pass that Oberti brought down with a defender on him to midfield. Sisco broke off a 51-yard touchdown run, but it was nullified because of a holding penalty.
Mitchell Whaley gained a yard on third-and-one. McFarland hit Whaley for four yards on fourth-and-three.
Two plays later, Brody Harlow tried to break a run to the outside, but dropped the ball. Fowler scooped it up and ran it back 74 yards for a touchdown to take a 12-7 lead after the kick was missed.
Three plays into the next drive, McFarland’s pass went through the hands of his intended receiver and into the hands of Fowler for an interception. However, the Hawks stepped up and forced a punt.
The Hawks couldn’t convert on fourth-and-one and the Redcats took advantage.
Fowler got its initial first down on an offsides penalty. Three plays later, Fowler connected on a skinny post for a 43-yard touchdown with 58 seconds left in the first half for a 20-7 lead after the two-point play was converted.
Liberty battled back with a minute left in the first half. Sisco gained seven on third-and-two. McFarland hit Whaley with a 24-yard pass to the 22 yard line with four seconds left.
Then, McFarland found an open Nulick on the left for a walk-in 22-yard touchdown. Christian Haney hit the second of his five point afters for a 20-14 Fowler lead at the half.
The Hawks tried to drive to open the second half. Oberti broke off a 23-yard gain, but the ball was poked free and Fowler recovered.
The Redcats got a 20-yard pass play for a first down. They got a 13-yard pass play on third-and three. On the next play, Fowler threw up the middle. A Liberty defender got his hands on the ball, but not enough. The ball bounced off Liberty and into the hands of the Fowler receiver. He caught it and ran into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion was good and Fowler led 28-14 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
The Hawks went three-and-out on their next possession.
The Redcats got an initial first down on a 13-yard run and gained a yard on third-and one for another conversion. However, Jared Nolte and Nate Martinez stuffed Fowler for a loss of three. After an incomplete pass, Harlow stopped a pass play after a gain of seven to force a punt.
The Hawks began to wear down the Redcats with a 14-play, 81-yard touchdown drive.
Oberti gained 11 on the second play and then gained five on third-and-five. The key play was a fourth down incomplete pass, but the Redcats were called for roughing the passer on McFarland and the Hawks got a first down.
McFarland hit Nulick for a 15-yard gain. Harlow gained five and four to the six-yard line. Oberti finished the drive with a six-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 28-21 with 6:20 left in the fourth.
Fowler tried to run out the clock and the Hawks seemed to have gotten the ball back, but a pass interference call helped give the Redcats a first down.
Fowler gained four on third-and-one to keep the drive alive. Whaley stopped Fowler for a seven-yard gain on second-and-15.
The Redcats tried to pass for the first down, but Oberti jumped into the passing lane and picked off the pass. He returned it to the 28-yard line with two minutes left in the game.
Oberti gained eight and then nine yards for a first down. After Oberti gained five, Harlow gained five for a first down to the one-yard line.
Oberti was stuffed for a loss on the next play, but scored from two yards out with 38 seconds left. Haney hit the extra point to tie the game.
Fowler returned the ensuing kick-off to the Liberty 41-yard line. Nulick made the touchdown-saving tackle. Fowler made a quick completion and then tried a 54-yard field goal that fell short as time expired.
Starting from the 25 in overtime, the Hawks faced a fourth-and-three. Rather than run the ball like they have all night, Nolte called for a pass and Whaley gained 13 yards to the five-yard line.
“There were a couple of third and fourth down plays that they changed their fronts and stuffed us,” Nolte said. “Being overtime, we had to do something to give us a chance and that was it. Luke made a good throw and Mitchell made a good catch.”
Two plays later, Oberti scored from three yards out. Haney hit the extra point for the 35-28 lead.
Now, the Hawks had to hold the Redcats. Fowler gained 17 yards on the first play to the eight-yard line.
Harlow stopped Fowler for a loss of three. Dolan Dilbeck broke up a pass in the end zone on second down. On third down, Fowler’s quarterback scrambled for seven yards to the four.
On fourth down, with the game on the line, Nulick beat his man and forced the Fowler quarterback to scramble. He threw into the end zone, but Dilbeck jumped up and came down with the interception to secure a 35-28 overtime victory.
Liberty will try to keep up the moment on Friday with a visit to Minarets.