Hawks play complete game in rout
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Dominic Castaneda drives into the end zone for a touchdown in Friday’s 40-20 victory over the Golden West Trailblazers. Castaneda rushed for a season-high 143 yards in the win.
With a full-squad for the first time since the beginning of the season, the Liberty Hawks football team played its most complete game of the season in a 40-20 rout of the Golden West-Visalia Trailblazers.
Originally scheduled to open the North Sequoia League season against the Yosemite-Oakhurst Badgers, the Hawks had to shift their focus to Golden West after finding a game early Wednesday.
“That was the whole battle cry going into this week was we’re starting league,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “The kids were geared up for that. It was a huge disappointment when Yosemite wasn’t coming. I wasn’t sure we could get a game because it’s league time.”
The Hawks dominated the game more than it seemed Friday night. Although the Trailblazers gained 228 yards of total offense, 159 of it came against the Liberty back-ups, in addition to two touchdowns.
The Hawks rushed for a season-high 313 yards and scored touchdowns on five straight drives for the victory.
“Offensive and defensively, it was our best game of the year,” Nolte said. “The special teams wasn’t. We were flying around to the football and were physical.”
While the Trailblazers averaged 4.7 yards per play, the Hawks averaged 6.8 yards per play and earned 24 first downs. Liberty only faced four third downs all game long.
The 2021 spring football Madera Tribune Football Most Valuable Player Dominic Castaneda had a break-out game Friday night. He rushed for 143 yards and averaged 10 yards per carry to showcase his gamebreaking skills. Mitchell Whaley had his first 100-yard game of the season, rushing for exactly 100 yards and he scored a touchdown.
Meanwhile, on defense, Vince Oberti led the charge for the Hawks. He led the team with eight tackles, returned an interception for a touchdown and forced and recovered a fumble.
“Vince is a pretty dynamic defender,” Nolte said. “He’s athletic, has good speed and brings the excitement. He’s fun to watch.”
The game started slowly for both teams. Golden West punted on its first two possessions. Meanwhile, Liberty fumbled on three of its first four possessions and punted on the other.
Golden West got the ball at its own 15-yard line after recovering a fumble. Three plays later, Oberti stepped in front of a Trailblazers’ receiver and ran untouched 19 yards into the end zone for the first score of the game.
However, the Trailblazers quickly answered when they took the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for the game-tying score 15 seconds later.
Golden West had five possessions in the first half that accounted for just 25 yards of total offense.
The Hawks started rolling after getting pinned to the 10-yard line. Liberty drove the 90 yards on 13 plays for the go-ahead score.
Castaneda gained 12 for a first down. Whaley gained nine for another first down, Oberti gained eight. Castaneda gained eight yards for a first down and Luke McFarland found Dante Ciritela for 12 yards and a first down at the Golden West 20-yard line.
Castaneda carried for 14 to the six-yard line. Two plays later, Castaneda finished the drive with a three-yard run and a 14-7 lead.
“I was proud of how the line played,” Nolte said. “Any time you can control the game with the ground game is good. I love those long drives.”
Golden West returned the ensuing kick-off 37 yards to the Liberty 35-yard line. After Golden West got an initial first down, the defense of Nathan Medina, Davey Pombo, Oberti, Whaley and Mitchell Sano forced a turnover on downs at the Liberty 26.
With time running out in the first half, Castaneda gained 18-yards to the 44-yard line. After an incomplete pass, Castaneda ripped off a 24-yard run to the 32-yard line.
On the final play of the first half, McFarland lofted a ball to the end zone. Sano, with two defenders sandwiching him, tipped the ball in the air. Medina was right there to haul it in for a touchdown and give the Hawks a 21-7 lead heading into halftime.
The Trailblazers started the second half going the wrong way after Pombo stuffed the Trailblazers for a loss and Oberti forced a fumble the Golden West got back. On third-and-19, Golden West completed a pass for 23-yards and a first down.
Golden West got a 16-yard run for a first down and another first down into Liberty territory.
On the next play, Golden West dropped a hand-off and Oberti jumped on it for a fumble recovery.
Castaneda began the next drive with a 15-yard run inside the 30-yard line. Four plays later, Whaley ended the drive with a six-yard touchdown run for a 28-7 lead with 5:31 left in the third quarter.
The Trailblazers went on their first touchdown drive of the game, a 10-play, 87-yard drive that ended with an eight-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 28-14 six seconds into the fourth quarter.
Whaley opened the next drive with a 34-yard gain up the middle to the 10-yard line. On fourth-and-one, Nolan Sewell drove his way for a one-yard touchdown run for a 34-14 lead with 9:36 left in the game.
On third-and-19, Golden West was forced to pass. Castaneda stepped in front of the Golden West intended receiver for an interception.
The Hawks took over from there, Whaley gained 14 and Caleb Sisco gained another 14. Whaley gained eight and Castaneda gained four for a first down. Two plays later, Sisco ended the drive with a two-yard run. The extra point was blocked, but Liberty led 40-14.
The Trailblazers went on an eight-play, 72-yard drive to score with a minute left in the game for the 40-20 Liberty victory.