Liberty-Madera Ranchos High is headed to a fourth consecutive Central Section title game after beating No. 4 Golden West 30-14 in a Division IV semifinal on Friday night.
The top-seeded Hawks (12-0), a team that features 30 seniors and has won 36 games over the past three years, will be seeking a third straight section title after winning back-to-back crowns in Division V.
“Our kids know what kind of football is played in November and December, and they get tuned in and are ready to get after it this time of year,” Liberty coach Mike Nolte said.
All of that experience was crucial early in the third quarter when the momentum took a big swing in favor of the Trailblazers.
With a 10-0 lead, the Hawks forced Golden West (7-5) to punt after a three-and-out. Junior return man Jackson Watts muffed the punt, and the ball was recovered by the Trailblazers at the Hawks’ 19-yard line. On the ensuing play, Cristian Canales went 19 yards for a touchdown and Golden West had pulled within 10-7.
But Liberty, with an offense averaging 49.7 points per game coming in, had an answer.
The Hawks marched 80 yards in 11 plays and scored on a 4-yard run by senior Wade Wallace.
“It was huge for our kids to put a drive like that together when the game got close,” Nolte said. “To push the ball in for a touchdown, it gave us a lot of momentum and pushed us over the top.”
Liberty added two more rushing touchdowns and finished the game with 294 yards on the ground. Wallace and fellow senior Richie Brandt each finished with over 100 yards.
Now comes a championship showdown with No. 2 Central Valley Christian (11-1), a 38-35 winner against Chavez-Delano.
“We take pride in going week-to-week,” Nolte said, “but I know it’s the one that everyone wants, so here we are.”