The three-time Central Section champions Liberty Hawks of Madera Ranchos (5-1, 1-0 NSL) were riding high two weeks ago with the longest win streak in California high school football at 23 straight dating back to Nov. 1, 2013, before being knocked off its perch Oct. 2 with a 41-21 loss to Madera South.
Hosting Yosemite High last Friday, Liberty was looking to get back into the win column, and get a good start on North Sequoia League play. The Hawks scored 28 points in the second quarter on their way to defeat the Badgers 42-6.
Hawk head coach Mike Nolte and staff has built a winning culture in the community, something YHS Coach JD Burnett hopes to achieve in Oakhurst over time. The Hawk teams, playing in D-V are the class of the NSL, going 43-5 in the last four seasons.
Yosemite is on the opposite path of the Hawks losing their 23rd straight game. The last Badger victory occurred against Riverdale (40-16) on Sept. 13, 2013.
“We put together a nice first quarter drive that ate up nine minutes,” Burnett said. “Unfortunately we came away with no points. We have to finish our drives to win games. We were able to control the tempo of the game and won the time of possession battle, but their offense was too explosive for us to contain.”
The Badger offense had a nice opening drive. Starting at the 25, quarterback Tristan Eames connected for two passes for first downs, one an athletic one-handed grab by Badger receiver Cass Moreno. The Badgers also moved the ball well on the ground with Jesse De La Cruz getting key yards. The Badgers converted first downs on third and fourth down situations. It was all for naught as Eames threw an interception at the three-yard line ending a promising scoring drive.
Liberty took over, and two plays later, YHS forced fumble that was recovered at the Hawk 23. On fourth and two, the Badgers went for a 35-yard field goal. The attempt by Tanner Meeks was wide-left. The Badgers may owned time of possession, but the first quarter ended in a 0-0 tie.
To start the second quarter, Liberty went on a five-play, 82-yard scoring drive. On the subsequent kickoff, Badger returner Johnny Barian had a nice 38-yard return, but a block in the back penalty pushed the Badgers back 15 yards. On the next play a scrambling Eames fumbled the ball into the arms of Hawk linebacker Hunter Gray who returned it 47 yards for the touchdown.
The Hawk ground game then took over, moving at will. Liberty running back Jackson Watts burst up the middle outrunning the Badger defenders for a TD, Chad Wallace had a 37 yard run, and then scored on a six-yard TD, makin the score Liberty 28-0 at halftime.
The Badgers kicked off to Liberty to begin the third quarter. On the first play, Brandt went deep, but Tristan Eames, playing cornerback, intercepted and the Badgers started at their 38 but the drive stalled and the Badgers had to punt. On Liberty’s next play, Wallace burst up the middle and took it 80 yards for the TD, giving Liberty a 35-0 lead.
After another Liberty touchdown, the Badgers scored late in the third quarter on a De La Cruz six-yard run up the middle to get on the scoreboard and make the final score 42-6.
“Tristan battled hard with over 100 yards passing (111 yards on 11-27 passing) and 80 yards rushing,” Burnett said. De La Cruz had 66 yards on 11 attempts and a touchdown run. Receiver Cass Moreno had his best day at the varsity level with seven catches for 43 yards. Ty Peterson led YHS with nine tackles. To date, Peterson has 57 tackles, tops in the NSL.
“Our players are learning to compete against some of the best small school programs in the Valley,” Burnett said.
The Hawks also won the JV game, 49-7. The Badgers had only 15 players suited up - five sophomores and 10 freshman.
A 56-yard run by Dylan Micallef two plays into the fourth quarter, and the point after by Micallef kept Yosemite from being shutout.
At Kerman Friday
Coach Burnett returns with his team Friday to Kerman (2-3, 0-1) , the school he coached last season. The Lions suffered a devastating 46-21 homecoming loss to Chowchilla in the NSL opener for both teams last Friday.
It will be an emotional return for Burnett as many Kerman players were coached by him for two years before he came to Yosemite.
Some NSL coaches, including Burnett, felt Kerman had a good shot at winning league this season. Kerman, now coached by Anthony Taylor, is shooting for their third straight playoff appearance.
The Badgers return home, hosting Chowchilla on Friday, Oct. 23.