Mistakes are too much for Hawks to overcome
Tyler Takeda/The Madera Tribune
Liberty running back Dominic Castaneda jumps through a hole during Friday’s loss to Righetti in the Div. V Central Section championship game. He rushed for a game-high 155 yards in the loss.
SANTA MARIA — When playing for a Central Section championship, one of the keys to the game is to limit mistakes, especially if you are the underdog.
The eighth-seeded Liberty Hawks football team found out first-hand how that is true against the third-seeded Righetti-Santa Maria Warriors.
The Hawks had three turnovers, which Righetti turned into a pick-6 and a scoop-and-score, in Friday’s 34-7 loss in the Div. V Central Section Championship game.
Liberty couldn’t score twice when they had possession deep in Righetti territory, finishing both drives inside the Warriors’ 20 on downs.
“I’m proud of how the boys played all year, especially the last few weeks,” head coach Mike Nolte said. “In a game like this, we can’t make mistakes and that’s what we did. We played well, otherwise, but those mistakes hurt us.”
While the Warriors won by 27 points, the stats show the game was much closer than the score. Righetti had 13 first downs while Liberty had 12. The Warriors gained 297 yards of total offense while Liberty had 281. Righetti was penalized six times for 40 yards while the Hawks had just one penalty. The Hawks even got to Righetti’s quarterback three times.
Madera Tribune’s Spring Football Most Valuable Player Dominic Castaneda made a case for becoming a two-time MVP with a great finish to his season. He rushed for 155 yards, including a 52-yarder that was the longest play from scrimmage in the game.
He also made a name for himself in the Liberty football record book. He finished this year with 1,402 yards, which is fifth-most in school history. He also had 1,913 career yards, which is eighth despite playing in just five games last year. He also scored 18 rushing touchdowns this year, which is tied for fourth. He had 25 career rushing touchdowns, seventh all-time. He set the school record for interceptions in a season with eight in the spring’s shortened season and six more this year for 14. His 126 points scored is seventh all-time.
Mitchell Whaley also rushed for 85 yards and scored Liberty’s only touchdown to give him 814 yards this season.
Although the defense allowed almost 300 yards, they also held Righetti in check for most of the game. The finished with five tackles for loss and a sack that resulted in 23 negative yards.
Whaley led the team with 12 tackles and Oberti had 11. Oberti finished the season as the team leader with 116 tackles (5th all-time) while Whaley had 108 (tied for 6th all-time). They are the second pair of Hawks with 100 or more tackles and first since 2017. Nathan Medina and Diego Rojas also had 10 tackles. Rojas finished the year with 70 tackles, fourth all-time for a defensive lineman.
With just eight seniors on the roster, the future looks bright for the Hawks after this year’s trip to the Central Section championship game.
The Hawks’ defense, led by Jared Nolte, Oberti, Castaneda, Rojas and Nathan Medina get a fourth down stop and the Hawks got the early momentum.
Unfortunately, that changed rather quickly. Two plays later, quarterback Medina’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and Righetti picked it off and returned it 23 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
Liberty fumbled three plays into its next drive, but the Hawks forced a punt after a sack by Rojas and Whaley.
The Warriors then went on an 11-play, 56 yard drive for a touchdown with 9:46 left in the first half.
After another Liberty punt, the Warriors drove seven plays for 59 yards to open a 21-0 lead with 3:27 left in the half. The Warriors were 6-of-12 on third down conversions.
The Hawks came out of the second half determined to cut into the lead and Castaneda gained 52 yards on the first play to get the ball to the Righetti 28. Castaneda gained four on third-and-three for a first down to the 17-yard line.
However, the Hawks turned the ball over on downs at the nine-yard line.
The Hawks’ defense forced a three-and-out after tackles from Rojas, Castaneda, Oberti, Davey Pombo, Medina and Whaley.
Unfortunately, two plays later, Medina was sacked. On the process of the tackle, Righetti forced the ball away from Medina, picked it up and ran it back 24 yards for a touchdown with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
The Hawks got a 29-yard pass play from Medina to Dante Ciritella to put the ball at the 24-yard line. The Hawks got inside the 20, but turned the ball over on downs, again.
Righetti then went on an 11-play, 85-yard drive for a touchdown for a 34-0 lead with 9:30 left in the game.
The Hawks showed some signs of life on the next drive. Castaneda got a first down with a six-yard run. Caleb Sisco ran through tacklers for a 14-yard gain near midfield.
Medina then handed off to Whaley up the middle. Whaley broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and outran the Righetti defense for a 48-yard touchdown run. Christian Haney’s extra point cut the lead to 34-7 with 7:37 left in the game.
Haney then tried an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. He executed it to perfection and Oberti came up with the recovery. Unfortunately, the Hawks had to punt on the drive.
The Hawks turned the ball over on downs on its next two drives. The Liberty defense forced Righetti into a 44-yard field goal attempt. Sisco got a hand on the kick for the block and Nolan Sewell came up with the recover, but it was too little too late in the game for a comeback as time ran out on the Hawks.