Sep. 16—The Liberty Ranch football got its first win of the season on Friday, and in doing so put the team's remaining opponents on notice that this is not a team to be trifled with.
The Hawks pounded out a 40-28 victory over a hard-hitting Nevada Union squad that came into the game with a 3-1 record and had every expectation of beating an 0-2 Liberty Ranch squad.
"These kids struggled their JV year, so it has been a real monkey on the back of these kids, not just the staff. It's a real confidence boost for them, and it's a confidence boost for the staff," said Liberty Ranch coach Warren Schroeder. "We'll use this momentum going into another tough game against Ripon. But I told the guys, we have tough games lined up for a reason. We want to get tested. We want to make sure we can go against teams that can show us what we need to work on before we get to league.
"To have a win against one of those tough teams that was predicted to beat us is a great morale boost going into next week."
Nevada Union brought a tough-nosed defense, but Liberty Ranch shoved the rock into their face, putting two runners over the century mark — Brannon Cathey carried 24 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns, and Joseph Brown carried 14 times for 144 yards and another score.
"Oh man, I never shy away from hitting," Cathey said. "I love to hit. It's my favorite thing, dude. That's why I play this sport, I love hitting."
Liberty Ranch trailed 21-20 at halftime, and fell behind 28-20 on quarterback Dustin Philpott's third touchdown pass early in the second half. But a drive full of Cathey runs set up a Kymani Fenika quarterback sneak to pull within 2 points, and Oscar Romero intercepted Philpott on the first play of the Miners' next drive.
"So, we were in one of our coverages, and I had flats," Romero said. "I saw the guy coming over and I was like OK, I've got to pick this dude up, he's coming my way. So I saw the quarterback throw the ball, he kind of let him on a little too much, and I was just there. Perfect timing."
Cathey plunged into the end zone from 9 yards out on the next play to put Liberty Ranch up 33-28. Nevada Union didn't score again.
"Coach Tibbets did a great job trying to make adjustments, and the adjustments worked," Schroeder said. "I thought offensively we were able to move the ball pretty well in the first half, and I was really proud of that last drive we had to put those three points on the board."
Cathey put the icing on the cake with a 2-yard dive to put Liberty Ranch up by 12, and Romero swatted away Philpott pass in the end zone on fourth down to end Nevada Union's last real chance at getting back in the game.
"Yeah, I mean everybody was in the right place," Romero said. "My team, they had the quarterback pressured down, I just played my part, played my assignment."
The first half went back and forth with no indication that either team would be able to take control. Liberty Ranch marched close enough for a 25-yard Seth Abbott field goal on their first drive, then the teams traded turnovers before Philpott found Max McMaster from 25 yards out.
Liberty Ranch responded with a quick drive to score on a 4-yard Shaye Setter dive, and Nevada Union took the lead back on a 68-yard run by Ryder Eelkema. Brown responded for Liberty Ranch with a long touchdown of his own, breaking away for a 55-yard scamper.
Nevada Union mounted a long drive to score on a 13-yard Philpott pass to Carter Van Matre for the fifth lead change of the first half and a 21-17 lead.
Liberty Ranch held the ball before halftime and marched slowly down the field, settling for a 36-yard Abbott field goal to make it a 1-point game at halftime.
Fenika finished with 41 yards on 13 carries for Liberty Ranch, and Setter had four carries for 33 yards.
Nevada Union's Philpott completed 20 of 36 passes for 195 yards and three scores. The Miners (3-2) have a bye week before starting league play against Lincoln on the road.
Liberty Ranch (1-2) is on the road next week with a final preseason matchup against Ripon, another team known for being hard hitters.
"They like to hit too, so we gotta hit them right back," Cathey said. "I know our whole O-line loves hitting people, so it'll be another smash-nose football game."
Tokay lost 21-20 on the road against Gregori on Friday to fall to 3-2. The Tigers have a bye next week, then jump into Tri-City Athletic League play at home against West.