Hawks come back to take opener
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Vince Oberti runs through a leg tackle of a Mendota defender. He rushed for a team-high 105 yards and averaged more than 10 yards per carry. He also led the team with 10 tackles in Friday’s win over the Aztecs.
MENDOTA — The Mendota Aztecs took advantage of the Liberty Hawks football team to score two early touchdowns.
However, the Hawks got off the canvas and scored five straight touchdowns to record a 34-14 season-opening victory Friday in Mendota.
“It’s an attribute to the kids and their hard work and conditioning,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “Mendota has big guys up front. It took us a little bit to get into the game.”
Mendota scored on its first two possession, but gained just 45 yards on its last six possessions.
“We started wearing them down in the second quarter through the end of the game,” Nolte said.“
After giving up the ball on its first two possessions, Liberty scored on its next five, including a touchdown with 12 seconds left in the first half to tie the game and then outscored and outgained Mendota the rest of the way.
“That last drive before halftime to tie the score took the wind out of their sails,” Nolte said.
While the offense put up 20 second half points, the defense did its job. Mendota netted zero yards of total offense in the second half and was held to just 160 yards.
“Our defense really stepped up and did a good job. I’m proud of the guys up front. One of the turning points was losing their running back. He’s a good player,” Nolte said.
Oberti and Diego Salas led the Hawks with 10 tackles each. They helped hold the Mendota offense to just 2.8 yards per rush and 3.2 yards per play.
Vince Oberti led the Liberty offense with 105 yards rushing and a touchdown. Caleb Sisco rushced for 83 yards and three touchdowns. Mitchell Whaley added 91 yards and a touchdown and Brody Harlow rushed for 66 yards. In all, Liberty gained 356 yards rushing and 431 yards of total offense.
“We didn’t run too many different plays tonight. The kids played well,” Nolte said.
Mendota opened the game with an 11-play, 58-yard drive that was helped by a questionable pass interference penalty after Liberty turned the ball over on downs. After Liberty punted, Mendota drove 76 yards on 13 plays to take the two touchdown lead, but it wasn’t without controversy.
On fourth-and-goal from the one, the Mendota quarterback took the ball himself and tried to go around the right side. Oberti appeared to have poked the ball loose. The Mendota quarterback recovered the ball while he was lying on the field of play with the ball not crossing the plane of the goal line. The play side official called the ball dead and gave Liberty possession. However, the back-side official ruled the ball crossed the plane of the goal line without having a clear view of the play. The officials ruled touchdown and Mendota led 14-0.
The Hawks began to move the ball on their next drive. Luke Mcfarland hit Harlow on a crossing route and Harlow ran for 41 yards to the Mendota 30. Four plays later, on fourth-and-15, McFarland hit Whaley on a seam pass up the middle for a 31-yard gain to the four.
Sisco scored on the next play to cut Mendota’s lead in half.
The Aztecs earned a pair of first downs on their next drive, but the Hawks forced a punt.
Liberty began to drive near the end of the second quarter. Whaley rushed for 15 yards and Sisco gained another 29. Two plays later, Harlow rushed for 15 and Oberti gained 19 to the Mendota 13.
Oberti got the hand off, again, and went up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left in the half. Christian Haney hit the point after to tie the score at half time.
Dolan Dilbeck picked off Mendota on its opening possession of the second half.
After Oberti gained 16 yards on the first play, Oberti gained 19 yards to the 26-yard line. Whaley finished the drive with a 26-yard touchdown to take the lead.
The Liberty defense forced a three-and-out and the Hawks took advantage.
Sisco opened the drive with a 13-yard run. Harlow gained nine for a first down on third-and-five. Oberti converted another third down with a seven-yard run. Sisco scored on the next play from 20 yards out for a 27-14 lead.
After another Mendota punt, the Hawks closed the scoring with an 11-play drive. Harlow started the drive with a 21-yard gain. Whaley and Cisco earned first downs. After a Mendota pass interference penalty, Oberty rushed for another first down. On the next play, Sisco scored from eight yards out for the 34-14 victory.