Hawks give coach 100th victory
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Diego Rojas (5) and Vince Oberti (22) combine to force the ball loose from Immanuel’s Oscar Cabrera while Caleb Sisco puts the finishing touches on the tackle. Max Nulick (44) caught the loose ball for the fumble recovery. The Hawks scored on the next play for a 14-0 fourth quarter lead Friday night.
REEDLEY — In another dominating defensive effort, the Liberty Hawks advanced to the Div. V semifinals with a 14-0 victory over top-seeded Immanuel-Reedley to give head coach Mike Nolte his 100th victory at Liberty.
Nolte, who has a .676 winning percentage, said heading to the semifinals is more important that the win.
“It’s a great thing to be able to coach long enough to get 100 wins,” he said. “More importantly, we’re in the semifinals.”
For the just the second time in school history, and the first since 2012, the Hawks pitched three straight shutouts, and this time at the end of the season.
“It’s pretty nice not to allow a point,” defensive coordinator Tyler Melvin said. “When the kids are flying around, it makes you look good. They felt confident.”
“We played great defense again against them,” Nolte said. “We put together a couple of good drives tonight.”
The Hawks played Immanuel in early October and lost by a point after missing a point after with 39 seconds left in the game. In that game, the Hawks allowed 122 yards of total offense, including zero passing yards.
Liberty’s defense was even better Friday night. They allowed just 94 yards of total offense and just over two yards per play. Immanuel punted six times and was held to just 2-of-10 on third down conversions. They had 21 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
“We felt good about the first game,” Melvin said. “We gave them a short field a couple of times last time. The defense is flying around right now.”
Middle linebackers Mitchell Whaley and Caleb Sisco led the team with 10 tackles. Diego Rojas and Vince Oberti chipped in with eight tackles each while Mitchell Sano had seven.
Whaley had an impressive all-around game. On top of his 10 tackles, he rushed for 76 yards and scored both touchdowns. He also kicked both extra points.
In another all-around great game, the spring football’s Madera Tribune Most Valuable Player Dominic Castaneda showed off his skills. He rushed for a game-high 116 yards, including a 52 yarder to set up the game’s first touchdown.
He also became the school career interception leader with two more interceptions to give him 13 in his three-year career. He also had five punts for a 32 yard average.
The Hawks managed 264 yards of total offense and were helped by 81 yards passing by Nathan Medina, who started his first varsity game at quarterback.
Liberty seemed like every time they took a step forward, they took a step back in the first half They were called for six false start penalties in the first half, but just one penalty in the second half.
The Hawks next travel to the desert, three hours away to face the fourth-seeded Boron Bobcats, who defeated fifth seed Shafter, 50-33.
On the second play of the game, the Hawks tried a reverse pass with Castaneda throwing downfield for Sano. Immanuel was called for pass interference. Two plays later, Medina hit Max Nulick for a first down at Immanuel’s 29-yard line. After a false start penalty, Medina was sacked twice to turn the ball over on downs.
Immanuel got two first downs on its next drive. However, a bad snap resulted in a 16-yard loss and the Eagles had to punt on fourth-and-26.
Liberty faced a third-and-three, but two false start penalties forced the Hawks to punt.
Immanuel got a first down on its next drive, but Sano stopped a pass play for a loss of two. After an incomplete pass, Sisco and Jared Nolte stopped Immanuel after a two-yard gain to force a punt.
On third-and-nine, following another false start penalty, Medina hit Castaneda for a 16-yard gain. Castaneda carried for seven and Whaley got the first down with a three-yard run.
The Hawks went backwards after a five-yard loss by Nolan Sewell and an Immanuel sack of Medina.
However, Medina threw downfield and Dante Ciritella made a catch with a defender on him for a 22-yard gain and a first down. However, the Hawks had to punt three plays later.
The Hawks’ defense forced a third straight Immanuel punt after tackles from Sisco, Medina and Sewell.
From the eight-yard line, after another false start penalty, Castaneda found an opening round the right side behind pulling blocks of Nolte and Tyler Edwards. He broke free for a 52-yard gain to the Immanuel 40-yard line.
Whaley went up the middle for 14 yards and Castaneda went around the right side for 12 more yards to the 14-yard line.
Castaneda carried for five and Whaley finished the drive by breaking tackles up the middle for a nine-yard touchdown run with 1:36 left in the first half for a 7-0 lead.
Three plays later, Immanuel bobbled the snap and Whaley recovered the fumble at the Eagles’ 41-yard line.
Medina was sacked and Castaneda gained 11 to the 39-yard line with little time left. Again, Liberty moved before the snap for their sixth false start penalty. On third-and-12, Castaneda caught a 26-yard pass, but the second quarter clock expired.
Immanuel got the first possession of the second half and got an initial first down. However, Rojas and Whaley got a 15-yard quarterback sack and the Eagles had to punt on fourth-and-21.
The Hawks went three-and-out and the Eagles got a 22-yard gain for a first down.
From there, Sano sniffed out a screen pass for a loss of one. Castaneda broke up a pass play to force a punt.
Castaneda got an initial first down after the Hawks were on their own four-yard line. The Hawks couldn’t do anything more and had to punt.
Three plays later, Castaneda picked off his 12th career pass to break the school record (Chad Wallace, 2014). Castaneda took the ball to the Immanuel 40-yard line.
Unfortunately, the Liberty offense couldn’t get a first down and Castaneda punted to the Immanuel 14-yard line.
Two plays later, Rojas and Oberti converged on the Immanuel ball carrier in the backfield and forced the ball loose. Nulick caught the ball in the air for the fumble recovery and carried it to the five-yard line.
Whaley scored on the next play for a 14-0 lead with 10:28 left in the fourth quarter.
Although leading by two touchdowns, Nolte knows how quickly a game could change and there was a lot of time still left on the clock.
“That was awesome to get that short field,” he said. “When we get that short of field, we should score. I know, based on recent history, things can turn around really quick.”
The Liberty defense stepped up and forced a five-and-out after an initial Immanuel first down.
Nulick forced an incomplete pass, Rojas and Whaley allowed four yards on a run and Immanuel threw incomplete and brought out the punt team.
The Hawks went into chewing clock mode. Castaneda got a first down with a four-yard run on third-and -three. Whaley gained eight up the middle. However, the Hawks were forced to punt on fourth-and-six.
Immanuel got an initial first down on a run. On third down, Liberty was hit with a pass interference penalty. Two plays later, Immanuel got inside the 35-yard line with an 11-yard first down pass.
Immanuel tried to throw to the end zone, but Castaneda read the pass for his second interception of the night.
Oberti closed out the game with 25 yards on the final four plays to send the Hawks to the semifinals.