Hawks stay undefeated, win NWSC title
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
The Liberty Hawks football team celebrates a 57-7 victory over the Chowchilla Tribe on Friday that gave them an undefeated regular season record and the outright Northwest Sequoia Conference championship.
The Liberty Hawks football team finished the regular season with two of their three main goals met — finish undefeated and win the Northwest Sequoia Conference title.
The Hawks completed those goals after a 57-7 thrashing of the Chowchilla Tribe on Friday in the season finale for both teams.
Now, the Hawks will aim for their ultimate goal — a Central Section title. The Hawks earned the top seed in the Div. IV Central Section playoffs, a year after advancing to the Div. V Central Section championship game. Liberty received a first-round bye and will host on Nov. 10 in the quarterfinals.
“This was a high emphasis,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “This was a big game for us because we wanted to be outright league champions. The kids responded.”
The Hawks scored touchdowns on their first seven possessions and cruised to their biggest win over Chowchilla in the program’s history. Liberty gained 342 yards of total offense, including 104 yards rushing from Vince Oberti. They got three rushing touchdowns and a pick-6 from Caleb Sisco to lead the offense.
“They came out and established themselves early,” Nolte said. “The boys up front did a great job and kids run hard.”
The Liberty defense also did its job. They held Chowchilla to one first down until its final drive of the game. Until the final drive of the game (12-plays, 78-yards against Liberty reserves), Chowchilla had 11 yards of total offense with four punts and a safety.
Not only did the Hawks control the game, they did it from the Chowchilla side of the field. Only one of Liberty’s scoring drives started outside Chowchilla territory. The Liberty reserves entered the game midway through the third quarter and everyone on the team received playing time.
“The kids practice hard and it’s nice to see them play hard, too,” Nolte said. “I’m happy everyone got to play. I’m happy they continued to play hard. I’m happy that the guys that started cheered on the guys who played after them. It was good camaraderie.”
The Hawks’ defense forced a three-and-out on the first Tribe possession of the game. It only took one play for the Hawks to take the lead.
Sisco took the hand-off around the right side, ran through a tackle and outran the Chowchilla defense for a 31-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
A tackle for loss by Jared Nolte and a sack by Seth Ruell, in addition to a penalty, forced a punt from the six-yard line. The snap went over the Chowchilla punter’s head for a safety and Liberty led 9-0.
Oberti began the next drive with a 14-yard gain. After quarterback Luke McFarland was sacked, Brody Harlow gained 21 yards. During the run, Harlow fumbled the ball, but picked it up on a bounce and gained 15 more yards to the 15-yard line.
Mitchell Whaley gained six and Oberti finished off the drive with a four-yard run. Christian Haney’s extra point gave the Hawks a 14-0 lead.
Chowchilla earned its only first down until late in the fourth quarter on its next drive on a 14-yard pass play.
Nolte recorded a quarterback sack and the Tribe had to punt.
McFarland hit Sisco for a 23-yard gain to the 30-yard line. Sisco ran for 10, Harlow went for nine and Oberti gained eight to the three-yard line.
Whaley finished the drive with the touchdown run and Liberty led 23-0 with 11 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Tribe turned the ball over on downs and the Hawks took advantage. Oberti gained 11 on the first play and Harlow gained 15 to the two. Sisco finished the drive with a touchdown run for a 30-0 lead.
A tackle for loss by Max Nulick, Davey Pombo and Nolte and a sack by Ruell forced a Chowchilla punt.
Sisco electrified the crowd with a 37-yard run, but a penalty brought it back to a gain of 12. Three plays later, Sisco got the hand-off and scored from 28 yards out with no penalty flags on the field. Haney’s extra point gave the Hawks a 37-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
Another tackle for loss from Nolte forced a punt from the Chowchilla one-yard line that went for 22 yards.
McFarland hit Oberti for a seven-yard gain and a first down. Oberti gained eight and Harlow finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown run with nine seconds left in the half for a 44-0 lead.
The Hawks opened the second half with a 13-yard gain from Oberti. Sisco gained 12 to the 20-yard line. Two plays later, Oberti scored on a 23-yard touchdown run right up the middle for a 50-0 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Nate Medina and Ruell forced a fumble and Nulick recovered. However, the Hawks turn the ball over on downs at the nine.
Nulick forced a third down with a tackle for loss. Chowchilla tried a fourth down pass, but Sisco stepped in front of the receiver for the interception and ran untouched into the end zone for the touchdown and a 57-0 lead.
Both teams had possessions and give it up. Chowchilla went on a 12-play drive to score its only touchdown of the game midway through the fourth quarter.
The Hawks ran out the clock to secure an undefeated regular season and an NWSC crown.