Hawks fall in final minute, again
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty running back Dominic Castaneda runs away from a Kerman defender during a touchdown run in Friday’s loss to the Lions. Castaneda rushed for more than 100 yards and scored all three Liberty touchdowns.
KERMAN — For the second straight game, the Liberty Hawks football team had a chance at a win, only to see it go away in the final minute.
In its first North Sequoia League game of the season, the Hawks held a 19-14 lead with about a minute left. For the third time in the game, the Lions completed a long pass into the end zone for the game-winning score.
Two weeks ago, the Hawks scored a touchdown in the final minute, but a missed extra point led to a 14-13 loss to the Immanuel-Eagles.
The Hawks dominated most of the game on both sides of the ball. The Hawks scored touchdowns on three straight possessions while the defense forced a Kerman punt on their first four possessions.
The Hawks rushed for 271 yards with two 100-yard rushers. Nolan Sewell rushed for 100 yards and Dominic Castaneda proved why he was The Madera Tribune’s Most Valuable Player last year. He rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns.
Unfortunately, three long pass plays determined the game. Kerman’s three touchdown passes accounted for 89 of the team’s 250 yards of total offense. Liberty held the Lions to just 12 first downs and 43 yards rushing. They also held the Lions to just 1-of-8 on third downs.
However, the Hawks earned 20 first downs, ran 56 plays and were 7-of-10 on third downs. It was two second half possessions that could have put the game away, but the Hawks made mistakes to give the Lions life.
The Hawks finally got going late in the first quarter. A face mask penalty and a Castaneda 12-yard run moved the ball to the two-yard line. Castaneda finished the drive with a short touchdown run.
After the Liberty defense of Sewell, Jared Nolte, Nathan Medina and Mitchell Whaley forced a punt, the Hawks began their longest drive of the game — 11 plays for 70 yards.
Luke McFarland completed a short pass to Whaley for a first down. Castaneda gained six on third-and-four. Sewell gained 13 yards for another first down. Two holding penalties pushed the Hawks to the Kerman 42 and faced a first-and-32.
McFarland found Castaneda for a 13-yard gain. Sewell gained 18 and Whaley got the first down with a six-yard run.
On the next play, Castaneda found paydirt for the second time for a 12-0 lead in the second quarter.
Kerman got the first possession of the second half, but a holding penalty pushed them back. Vince Oberti, Diego Rojas, Max Nulick and Medina forced a fourth down.
A penalty gave the Lions a first down. Two plays later, Mitchell Sano poked the ball away from a Kerman ball carrier and Whaley jumped on it for the recovery.
The Hawks began another scoring drive. Castaneda gained three on third-and-two and Sewell gained five on third-and-two.
Castaneda finished the drive with a 14-yard run on a counter for a 19-0 lead after a Whaley extra point with 5:16 left in the third quarter.
Kerman used the big play to get on the scoreboard. A double pass trick play led to a 24-yard gain. A 12-yard run moved the ball to the 30. Three plays later, Kerman threw the ball in the end zone and the receiver came up with it for a 32-yard touchdown pass.
Liberty responded with a drive to the 30-yard line. Whaley caught a pass for 12-yard for a first down. However, two plays later, Liberty fumbled and Kerman recovered.
The Hawks’ defense forced a Kerman punt. Oberti, Nulick made tackles to force a punt on fourth-and-six.
The Hawks began another drive. Castaneda gained five for a first down. Sewell added 12 and Whaley gained five on third-and-three to the 31-yard line.
However, two holding penalties and a false start pushed the Hawks to a third-and-27. Sewell gained 13 to the 35-yard line, but an incomplete pass turned the ball over on downs.
It took the Lions just two plays to find the end zone. A 40-yard catch-and-run and a 25-yard touchdown pass into the end zone cut the lead to 19-14 with 1:18 left in the game.
Kerman tried an onside kick and dribbled the ball up the middle. The ball looked to have stopped rolling before it reached 10 yards and Kerman covered it up. However, the officials ruled the ball just reached the line before Kerman recovered despite the argument of Liberty had coach Mike Nolte.
Six plays later, on fourth-and-seven, Kerman threw another ball to the end zone. The ball went over the outstretched hands of two Liberty defenders and into the hands of the Lions’ receiver for the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left in the game.
The Hawks couldn’t get anything going on the final two plays of the game and the Lions escaped with a win.