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Hawks run over Badgers

Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune

Liberty’s Anthony Salas eludes a Yosemite tackler while Max Nulick (44) provides a block during his 10-yard touchdown run to close the scoring of Friday’s 54-7 victory over the Badgers.


For the second straight season, the Liberty Hawks opened the season by allowing the season-opening kickoff get returned for a touchdown.

However, for the second straight season, the Hawks turned around that bad fortune into more than 50 points for a 54-7 victory over the Yosemite-Oakhurst Badgers to open the 2021 season that was originally scheduled to play in 2020.

Yosemite’s Holden Eames returned Steven Pennington’s kick-off 85-yards untouched for the season’s first score. However, just like last year when the Hawks defeated Firebaugh 53-35, the offense stepped up to nullify the score.

“They threw their big haymaker at the beginning of the game,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “We didn’t let down and responded like we were supposed to. It’s a tough situation. It was a bad footing out there and it was tough to hold onto the ball.”

After the kick-off return, the Hawks marched right down the field to score a touchdown of their own while playing in the mud and through a first half rain storm.

When the scoreboard turned to the second quarter, the Hawks must have liked the way they were going on the field because they never left. Liberty combined to scored 42 points in the second and third quarter. Liberty scored touchdowns on seven straight possessions to force a running clock in the fourth quarter.

“We took advantage of their mistakes,” Nolte said. “I think they lost some people. I think some of their seniors didn’t come back.”

While the offense was doing its job by scoring 54 points, the defense stepped up. Yosemite finished out the first half with negative 10 yards of total offense. The Badgers only got two possessions in the second half and finished with 22 total yards on offense.

“I was proud of our defense,” Nolte said. “They were flying around and we’re young back there.”

In typical Liberty fashion, quarterback Diego Piedra didn’t throw a pass. Although there were a few pass plays called, Piedra called his own number and rushed for 39 yards and a touchdown.

Highlighting 309 yards rushing were Dominic Castaneda, who rushed for 95 yards and three touchdowns, and Nick Anselmo, who gained 81 yards and also scored three touchdowns. Castaneda also had an interception and returned a punt 50 yards. Anselmo recorded eight tackles with two tackles for loss.

After Eames took the opening kickoff to the house, it was Liberty’s turn to respond while also settling down.

Anselmo lifted the spirits with a 28-yard run to highlight the drive. Castaneda went for 15 yards into the red zone. Two plays later, Castaneda broke a hit a the five-yard line and bounced into the end zone for the touchdown. The point after failed and Liberty trailed 7-6.

Yosemite got an initial first down on its next drive, the only one of the half, but were forced to punt after a six-yard loss at the hands of Vince Oberti and Victor Lopez.

On the second play of the drive, Castaneda gained seven, but lost the football. The ball popped into the hands of Dylan Cardoza, who gained another three yards to bring up third-and-short. Castaneda got the first down on the next play. However, the Hawks are forced to punt.

Castaneda returned Eames’ punt 50 yards to the 10-yard line. Three plays later, Piedra bobbled the snap and Yosemite recovered the ball in the end zone.

The Hawks’ defense forced another punt and the offense began the drive at midfield in the second quarter.

Seven plays later, the Hawks found the end zone when Castaneda scored from three-yards out to take a 12-7 lead. The Hawks went for the two-point conversion and Castaneda scored from a yard out after an illegal substitution penalty.

On the next Yosemite play, a pass bounced off of Eames into the hands of Castaneda, who returned it 35 yards to the 12-yard line.

Anselmo carried to the one on the next play and scored a play later. The Hawks had trouble kicking extra points all night in the mud and rain and the point after failed.

On the first play of the Yosemite drive, Victor Lopez and Diego Rojas stuff the Badgers for a loss of 11 to force a punt. On the punt, the snap went over Eames’ head. Eames recovered the ball, but was tackled by Tyler Edwards at the nine to turn the ball over on downs.

Two plays later, Anselmo scored from three-yards out. The point after run failed and Liberty led 26-7 with 4:07 left in the half.

The Hawks forced another punt after a sack by Lani Whiteside.

The big play of the drive was an Anselmo run while a personal foul was added to it to put the ball at the 12. Tyler Person gained 10 yards on the next play and Anselmo scored with 18 seconds left in the half. The point after failed and Liberty led 32-7 at the break.

Liberty opened the second half where they left off in the first half. Person gained 15 yards on the first play. Piedra followed with a 12-yard run. Anselmo gained 12 more yards to move the ball to the six. Castaneda took it from there for his third touchdown of the game.

Piedra took matters in his own hands for the two-point conversion and scored for a 40-7 lead with 10 minutes left in the third.

The defense of Cardoza, Anselmo, Sam Rauschenberg and Brad Wallace forced a four-and-out from the Badgers.

The Hawks took over at the 34-yard line and scored four plays later. Person started the drive with a six-yard gain. Mitchell Whaley gained five and Anthony Salas went up the middle for 15. Piedra finished the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run. Anselmo scored the two-point conversion run and the Hawks led 48-7 with 5:37 left in the third.

Pennington’s ensuing kick-off was a squib kick to the 36-yard line. The ball eluded a Yosemite player and Mitchell Sano covered it up for a Liberty recovery.

The Hawks methodically drove down the field with an 11-play drive. Salas gained six on fourth-and-three and Person gained nine on fourth-and-nine to keep the drive moving.

On the second play of the fourth quarter, Salas went up the middle, bounced off a couple of Yosemite players to score his first varsity touchdown for a 54-7 lead with 11:10 left in the game.

The Badgers tried moving the ball against the Liberty back-ups. Eames gave the Badgers their only offensive highlight with a 19-yard run for a first down. That run also moved the Badgers into the positive for total yards in the game.

However, the Badgers gave up the ball on downs after a tackle from Max Nulick kept the Badgers from a first down.

Piedra took a knee and the Hawks celebrated their first victory of the shortened spring football season.



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