Hawks stunned in quarterfinals loss to Shafter
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Vince Oberti shakes off a Shafter tackler to score his second touchdown of the game to give the Hawks a 13-7 lead with less than a minute left in Friday’s game.
For most of the game, the Liberty Hawks football team seemed to be in control, although they teetered on being out of control, as well during the Div. IV quarterfinals against Shafter.
However, it was that out of control sequence that caught up to the top-seeded Hawks. No. 8 seeded Shafter, who dropped two long passes earlier in the game, caught touchdown passes of 65 and 50 yards to stun the Hawks, 14-13, Friday.
“We just didn’t make enough plays tonight,” head coach Mike Nolte said.
The Hawks, who punted 12 times all season, were forced to punt on six straight possessions and eight overall. Meanwhile, the Liberty defense did its job by forcing six Shafter turnovers. Both of Liberty’s touchdowns came as a result of the turnovers, but the Hawks left a lot of points on the scoreboard.
Vince Oberti led the Hawks with 99 yards rushing and scored both touchdowns. Liberty gained 237 yards of total offense while Shafter gained 327 yards, but 115 came on its last two offensive plays.
The Hawks’ defense recorded four quarterback sacks, including two from Jared Nolte, who also had a fumble recovery. Brody Harlow had two interceptions and Nate Medina had another. Mitchell Whaley and Davey Pombo each came up with fumble recoveries.
However, another storyline to the game were the amount of penalties called, which turned the game on its head. Liberty, who was penalized 26 times all season, was called for 15 penalties for 124 yards. Shafter was also hit with 10 penalties for 71 yards.
Shafter drove inside the Liberty five-yard line on its first possession, but turned over the ball on downs after Max Nulick stuffed Shafter for a loss of one on fourth down.
However, the Hawks went three-and-out. The Liberty defense came up with another stop. This time, Nulick sacked the Shafter quarterback and Nolte came up with the recovery.
On the first play of the second quarter, Oberti took the ball up the middle and cut to his left and went down the sideline for a 37-yard touchdown run. The extra point was good and the Hawks led 7-0.
The Hawks seemed to have the momentum when Medina picked off a Shafter pass.
The Hawks got the ball to the two-yard line after Caleb Sisco rushed for 10 yards. Harlow scored on the next play, but a holding penalty was called.
Later, Liberty was hit with a false start and another holding penalty and had to try a 40-yard field goal. Christian Haney’s kick went off the crossbar.
A Sisco punt pinned the Generals at the three-yard line. Nolte came up with a sack and Harlow picked off Shafter on the next play.
However, a personal foul penalty halted the Liberty drive and had to punt on fourth-and-24 at the end of the first half.
In the second half, the Generals went into Liberty territory. A tackle for loss by Pombo and Nulick forced a third-and-12.
Harlow came up with another Liberty interception to halt the Generals’ drive.
The Hawks looked to run the game away. Sisco gained six for a first down. Whaley gained 10 and Oberti gained 14 to get inside Generals’ territory. However, two offensive penalties pushed the Hawks back and they had to punt.
The Generals, helped by a questionable roughing the passer penalty, moved the ball inside the Liberty 20-yard line. On third-and-two at the 17, Sisco stuffed Shafter for no gain. On fourth down, Pombo sacked the quarterback to turn the ball over on downs.
The Hawks, after getting an initial first down, had to punt.
Three plays later, Shafter completed a pass, but Sisco forced the ball loose for a fumble. Whaley picked it up and scored an insurance touchdown. However, Liberty was called for a personal foul penalty to negate the touchdown.
The Hawks got a first down from Sisco and a 24-yard run by Harlow, but had to punt on fourth-and-17.
On Liberty defense held the Generals to a fourth down play. On fourth-and-eight, the Generals aired it out and connected for a 65-yard touchdown with three minutes left in the game to tie the score.
The Hawks had to punt on their next possession, but the defense came through, again.
On the first play of the ensuing Generals’ drive, Nolte sacked the quarterback and forced a fumble. Pombo came up with it at the Generals’ 15-yard line.
Three plays later, Oberti went up the middle for a touchdown with 56 seconds left. However, the extra point was missed and Liberty led 13-6.
Shafter’s next offensive play looked like a mirror image of the previous one and had the same result, a touchdown to tie the score.
The Generals made the extra point for a 14-13 lead with 36 seconds left.
The Hawks gained seven yards on its next possession before an interception closed out the game and gave Liberty its first, and only, loss of the season.