Liberty holds on late for win
Tyler Takeda/The madera Tribune
Liberty’s Vince Oberti hauls in a Woodlake pass for an interception. After juggling the pass, Oberti ran 88 yards the other way for a touchdown in Friday’s win.
Despite just one practice last week, the Liberty Hawks did just enough for a 32-23 non-league win against the Woodlake Tigers.
In the first-ever meeting between the two schools, the Hawks got two safeties and an interception return for a touchdown that gave them the edge.
“We had some good things happen for us,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “We got two safeties and an interception for a touchdown and that’s the difference in the game. We got a long drive in the second half and that was big.”
The teams were relatively even in total offense with Liberty gaining 212 yards and Woodlake gaining 203. The difference came in the running game where the Hawks gained 166 yards, led by 110 from Dominic Castaneda. Liberty held Woodlake to just 24 yards rushing.
“Dom is a dynamic player,” Nolte said. “He runs hard. They know he’s our guy. They are gearing up. It was good to see him get out.”
However, Woodlake threw for 179 yards, but was sacked five times and threw two interceptions.
With the one practice, lack of conditioning showed for the Hawks. Woodlake scored two late touchdowns before the Hawks finally put the game away after a questionable call from the Tigers’ coach.
“I feel like with the numbers and the amount of guys that go both ways, they are going to get tired in a lot of games,” Nolte said. “I feel like, also, this group has a lot of heart and they step up when it counts. We sputtered when it would have been nice to get a few first downs. I think we had one offensive lineman come off the field and not turn around and play defense. It makes it tough.”
Mitchell Whaley, who missed last week’s loss to Templeton, led the team with 14 tackles. Tyler Edwards recorded 2.5 sacks and had 10 tackles. Vince Oberti had nine tackles to go with an 88-yard interception return for a touchdown. The Hawks had seven tackles for loss that resulted in 42 negative yards for the Tigers.
Liberty now sets its sights on another first-time team — the Roosevelt Rough Riders in Sunnyside Stadium in Fresno.
“Any time you play one of those Fresno schools, it’s always a mystery,” Nolte said. You know they are going to have athletes. They are going to keep you up at night.”
Both teams had trouble moving the ball early in the game. On Woodlake’s second possession, the combination of Whaley, Max Nulick and Castaneda forced a punt from the Woodlake 17-yard line. The punt snap went over the punter’s head and into the end zone. The Woodlake punter jumped on the ball for a safety.
The Hawks made the safety worth nine points instead of two with a touchdown drive after the ensuing kickoff when Oberti returned the kick 33 yards to the Woodlake 37-yard line.
Castaneda started the drive with a 10-yard gain to the 25-yard line. Nolan Sewell gained nine and Castaneda finished the drive with a 16-yard touchdown run on an inside counter for a 9-0 lead with 4:11 left in the first.
Two plays later, Sewell picked off a Woodlake pass, but the Hawks gave it right back on a fumble five plays later.
Woodlake went on a nine-play, 64-yard drive aided by a 31-yard gain on third-and-20 with a roughing the passer penalty added to it. Connor Wallace scored from four yards out with 10:19 left in the second quarter.
The Haws didn’t go anywhere on their next drive and had to punt. The snap went over Castaneda’s head and into the end zone. Castaneda watched the ball roll out of bounds for a Woodlake safety that tied the score. Both teams scored rushing touchdowns and safeties on bad punt snaps.
The Tigers started to drive down the field after a 16-yard pass play and a 25-yard pass play to the 17-yard line.
On the next play, Woodlake tried a quick slant. Oberti read the play and stepped in front of the ball. He tipped the ball twice before coming down with it and running it back the rest of the way for a touchdown. Christian Haney, like he was on all four touchdowns, was good on the extra point for a 15-9 lead with 6:34 left in the first half.
On the first play of the next drive, Woodlake fumbled and Jared Nolte recovered at the Tigers’ 31-yard line.
Liberty faced a third-and-11 and Luke McFarland hit Castaneda for a 25-yard gain to the seven-yard line, but the Hawks were called for a holding penalty.
On third-and-24, McFarland hit tight end Max Nulick going across the field. Nulick kept going and went down the sideline for a 46-yard catch-and run for a touchdown to give Liberty a 22-9 lead with 4:32 left in the first half.
Woodlake got a first down on its next drive, but fumbled trying for extra yards. Castaneda came up with the recovery, but the Hawks couldn’t do anything before the end of the first half.
Woodlake opened the second half with an initial first down. A pair of bad snaps led to back-to-back sacks from Edwards to force a Woodlake punt.
The Hawks went on a nine-play, 68-yard drive to put the game away. Whaley gained five for a first down. Castaneda got four straight carries totaling 47 yards to the nine-yard line. Whaley got the final two carries — one for eight and one for one — to get into the end zone for a 30-9 lead.
The Liberty defense stepped up on Woodlake’s next drive. On third-and-two, Mitchell Sano broke up a first down pass attempt. On fourth down, Woodlake tried a quarterback sneak and Whaley and Edwards teamed up on the tackle for a one-yard gain to turn the ball over on downs.
The Hawks were aided by back-to-back personal foul penalties on Woodlake for a first-and-goal at the seven. After a false start penalty on Liberty and a loss of one, Castaneda got two carries for 10 yards to the three. On fourth down, Sewell was stuffed for a loss of two.
Two plays later, an errant snap caused Woodlake into panic mode and Nathan Medina and Diego Salas tackled the ball carrier in the end zone for a second safety for a 32-9 lead.
Liberty gained just 14 yards on its final three drives, but Woodlake drove 43 yards for a touchdown on its next drive to cut the lead to 32-15.
The Hawks were forced to punt on its next drive. Punter Castaneda saw Dante Ciritella uncovered and tried to throw him a pass from his own five-yard line. The pass was short and Woodlake took over at the 20-yard line.
Eight plays later, the Tigers were in the end zone trailing 32-22. In the most head-scratching move of the game, the Tigers elected to kick the extra point to trail by nine instead of go for the two-point conversion where a touchdown and a two-point conversion would tie the game. The Tigers made the extra point and trailed by nine.
To make matters worse, the Tigers recovered the onside kick. However, the officials ruled Woodlake touched the ball before the required 10 yards and a Woodlake coach was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to give Liberty the ball at the Tigers’ 30 yard line.
Liberty ran two plays for a first down to run out the clock on a 32-23 win.