Hawks hang on to stay undefeated
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Vince Oberti runs through a Caruthers arm tackle for a big gain in Friday’s 27-24 victory. He rushed for more than 100 yards for the fifth straight game. He also had an interception and a fumble recovery on defense.
For the first time this season, the Liberty Hawks football team was pressed, but the Hawks persevered and came away with a 27-24 victory over the Caruthers Blue Raiders.
The Hawks jumped out to a 27-8 lead before halftime. However, the Blue Raiders scored a touchdown before halftime and another in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to three. The Hawks forced a turnover on downs in the final seconds to secure a three-point win.
“It’s nice to get a win,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “Winning isn’t easy. It’s a hard thing for any team to stay locked in, especially coming off of last week’s game. I told the kids that playing in those kinds of games make you better. I don’t care what the outcome is, you’re going to get better by playing in those.”
For the first time this season, the Hawks were outgained (429-257). Liberty only gained 60 yards in the second half while Caruthers gained more than 200 yards.
“They had a good scheme,” Nolte said. “They did their homework and looked at what we liked to do. They put guys in spots that were hard to get to and they made some plays. Had we stayed more patient and been happy with three, four yards a pop, we may have kept the ball away from them more in the second half. I think our kids played well and battled. Except for the big plays, it’s a different game.
The Hawks forced three turnovers, including one inside the 10-yard line to keep its undefeated record in tact.
For the fifth game in a row, the Hawks got an all-around performance from Vince Oberti. He led the Hawks with 124 yards rushing with a touchdown. He also was second on the team with 10 tackles. He picked off a pass and recovered a fumble.
The Hawks got 85 yards and two touchdowns from Caleb Sisco. Brody Harlow gained 59 yards and scored a touchdown.
The Liberty defense forced a three-and-out on Caruthers’ first possession of the game. Then, the Hawks drove down the field. They went on a 10-play, 62-yard drive for the early lead.
Sisco gained seven yards on the first play. Oberti went up the middle for 11 yards. Sisco ran for a first down with a 10-yard gain. Harlow followed with a 13-yard gain. On third-and-12, Sisco ran for nine and followed with an eight-yard run on fourth down.
On the next play, Oberti went up the middle for an eight-yard touchdown run. Christian Haney’s extra point gave the Hawks a 7-0 lead.
The Blue Raiders completed a 40-yard pass to get into Liberty territory, but gave up the ball on downs after two incomplete passes.
The Hawks took over at their own 30, and Sisco opened the drive with a 21-yard gain. Sisco gained nine for a first down and Oberti gained 13 to the 20-yard line.
After Oberti gained 15 to the four, Sisco scored for a 13-0 lead with three seconds left in the first quarter.
Two plays into Caruthers’ next possession, Oberti picked off a pass and returned it 32 yards to the 13-yard line.
However, the Hawks only managed to move the ball three yards before turning the ball over on downs.
Caruthers tried to get its offense going, but the Liberty defense, led by Mitchell Whaley, forced a punt.
The Hawks took over on the Blue Raiders’ 49-yard line. Sisco opened the drive with a 12-yard run. Two plays later, Harlow found an opening led by Nate Martinez and Jared Nolte. He broke a couple of tackles and outran the defense for a 34-yard touchdown for a 20-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Blue Raiders took advantage of back-to-back 17-yard gains to move into Liberty territory. Caruthers then found the left edge and ran down the sideline for a 28-yard touchdown run.
Caruthers caught the Hawks off guard on the kickoff. Their kicker recovered his own onsides kick and the Blue Raiders had momentum.
Facing a third-and-27, Caruthers tried a pass up the middle, but Noah Bonilla made a jump for the pick. He returned it 35-yard to the Caruthers 15-yard line.
Three plays later, Sisco scored from four yards out for a 27-8 lead with 2:31 left in the first half.
The Blue Raiders answered and drove down the field. They had the ball at the Liberty 29-yard line and threw over the middle to about the 10. Nate Medina made a break on the ball and tipped it. The Caruthers receiver caught the tip and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown with 34 seconds left in the first half to cut the lead to 27-16 after a two-point conversion.
The Hawks were forced to go three-and-out to open the second half.
The Blue Raiders drove down the field to the eight-yard line on an 11-play, 69-yard drive.
On third-and-four from the eight, Caruthers bobbled the hand off and Oberti came up with the fumble recovery.
The Hawks, methodically, moved down the field. Oberti gained 12 yards on two carries. Harlow gained 11 on two carries and added a six-yard gain for a first down. Sisco earned another first down into Caruthers territory with a five-yard run.
Harlow gained seven and Oberti moved the ball inside the 20-yard line with an 11-yard gain. Whaley gained three on third-and-two to the eight-yard line.
However, the Hawks were pushed backwards and were picked off in the end zone.
The Hawks forced the Blue Raiders to throw incomplete on fourth down. However, the Hawks’ offense went three-and-out.
The Blue Raiders gained 10 on third-and-nine. They faced a third-and-two from the 36. The Caruthers’ quarterback rolled to his left out of trouble and launched a ball deep down the field. Dolan Dilbeck had a chance at an interception and just missed. Caruthers came up with the reception and scored. The two point conversion was good and the Blue Raiders trailed 27-24 with 2:23 left in the game.
Max Nulick fell on the onsides kick attempt. The Hawks tried to take time off the clock, but had to punt with 1:19 left in the game.
On the next play, Nulick forced the Caruthers’ quarterback out of the pocket and he threw an errant pass. The Blue Raiders were called for intentional grounding and faced a second-and-27 from the two-yard line.
Caruthers got an 18-yard gain on second down. On third down, Caruthers gained four. On fourth down, the Blue Raiders tried a screen pass that had been working all game long. However, Oberti read it and, with help from Diego Salas, stopped Caruthers after a gain of one for a turnover on downs with 37 seconds left int eh game.
Liberty quarterback Luke McFarland took a knee to end the game with a 5-0 record before the team’s bye this week.