Little things turn big in opening loss
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty’s Mitchell Whaley holds onto the ball while gaining extra yards during Friday’s loss. He led the Hawks with 99 yards rushing and scored one of their two touchdowns.
EXETER — The Liberty Hawks football team had trouble doing the little things in a season-opening loss to the Exeter Monarchs.
The Hawks allowed six quarterbacks sacks, had three turnovers, a blocked punt and key penalties that stalled out drives during Friday’s game played with ash from wildfires in Porterville falling onto the field in the 25-14 loss
“I don’t want to take anything away from Exeter,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “They are a good football team. They have a lot of weapons and played a lot more physical than I thought they would. We shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit.”
After a third quarter touchdown to get within 11, the Hawks punted on three straight possessions and turned the ball over on downs, gaining just 20 yards on those four possessions.
The Hawks also had trouble keeping Dewayne Coleman from affecting the game. He had a combined 169 yards from scrimmage and scored touchdowns of 60 yards and 80 yards. Despite Coleman’s heroics, the Hawks limited the Exeter offense. Other than Coleman’s 140 yards on two touches, he was limited to just 29 yards on nine carries.
Overall, the Hawks outgained the Monarchs 256-225 and 140 of Exeter’s offense came on two plays. In addition, one of Exeter’s touchdown drives was only 16 yards after a blocked punt and the other touchdown was a pick-6.
Vince Oberti led the defense with nine tackles, including 2.5 tackles for losses. Caleb Cisco and Mitchell Whaley each had seven tackles. The Liberty defense recorded nine tackles for losses that added up to 32 lost yards for Exeter.
Meanwhile, the Liberty offense was good, at times, but stalled at the end of the game. Whaley led the Hawks with 99 yards rushing and scored a touchdown. Dominic Castaneda rushed for 84 yards, caught two passes for 20 yards and threw a pass or 30 yards, but it wasn’t enough.
All three of Exeter’s offensive scoring droves took four total plays. Liberty’s two scoring drives took 14 plays for 130 yards.
Twice, Liberty took the ball inside the Exeter red zone and couldn’t score. After Nathan Medina recovered a bad snap at the Exeter 44, the Hawks drove to the 14-yard line before the drive stalled. Christian Haney missed a 31-yard field goal.
On the next play, Exeter found Coleman down the right sideline for an 80-yard touchdown pass.
On the next drive, the Hawks were forced to punt and Castaneda’s kick was blocked. Exeter recovered at the 15 an scored three plays later on third-and-14.
Liberty had a first-and-goal at the five after a 31-yard run from Castaneda and a first down run by Nolan Sewell. However, a holding penalty and a block in the back penalty pushed the ball back to the 33 and the Hawks turned the ball over on downs.
The Hawks forced a punt, but three plays later, Exeter picked off a pass and went untouched 48 yards into the end zone for a touchdown and a 19-0 lead.
The Hawks got on the scoreboard, led by a 30-yard pass completion from Castaneda to Mitchell Sano. Castaneda gained 19 yards to the 16-yard line. Three plays later, Castaneda scored from 10 yards out to cut the lead to 19-6.
Exeter got a chance before the end of the first half after a 32 yard quarterback run and a 38-yard run by Coleman. However, the defense stepped up and didn’t allow a score.
Unfortunately, the Monarchs scored on the first play of the second half when Coleman went for 60-yards down the left sideline for a 25-7 lead.
The Hawks trimmed the lead to 25-14 with a 65-yard scoring drive. Sewell gained 18 and Whaley gained 15 to open the drive. Whaley caught a pass for 15 yards and a 15-yard penalty was added on. Four plays later, Whaley ran behind the line to score from a yard out.
The Liberty defense stepped up to give the offense a chance from there. They stuffed Exeter for -6 yards of total offense on six second half possessions.
However, the Liberty offense only gained 30 yards on five second half possessions.
The Hawks open the home season Friday against the Caruthers Blue Raiders.