GALT — Anthony Linebaugh has gone through a lot of firsts as the Liberty Ranch High football head coach.
Today at Hawk Stadium at 7 p.m., Linebaugh and Liberty Ranch can add another to the list. The Liberty Ranch campus will host its first-ever playoff Sac-Joaquin Section football playoff game. A Division V opener, No. 7 Liberty Ranch (5-5) welcomes No. 10 Foothill (7-3).
“(Today’s) playoff game marks an historical moment in our young school’s history,” Linebaugh said. “There is a tremendous amount of pride and excitement surrounding the first home football playoff game in our school’s history.”
The winner of tonight’s game will play at No. 2 Ripon (9-1), which as the first round bye, on Friday, Nov. 15. Ripon won a share of the Trans-Valley League title with Escalon and Hilmar.
Liberty Ranch finished in a three-way tie for second place in the Sierra Valley Conference with Rosemont (7-2) and Union Mine (6-4). Rosemont and Union Mine are also hosting D-V playoff games today; No. 6 Rosemont takes on No. 11 Livingston (6-4) while No. 8 Union Mine welcomes No. 9 Colfax (7-3).
On Thursday afternoon at Hawk Stadium, Liberty Ranch went through its final walk-through before today’s game.
“We have experienced a good week of practice, very productive,” Linebaugh said after Wednesday’s practice. “We continue to work on getting better in all phases of the game.”
In five SVC games this season, Liberty Ranch’s offense averaged 22.4 points per game. Leading the way for the Hawks are sophomore quarterback Aidan Carr, who has completed 55 of 105 passes for 631 yards and two touchdowns.
On the ground, the Hawks have four running backs who can and have carried the load this season. Isiah Ricci leads the way with 468 yards on 105 carries and seven touchdowns. Gabriel Simoes-Ojeda is next at 332 yards on 54 carries and two touchdowns, Tony Rangel 54-281 and Kade Koepplin 34-122.
In the air, Cameron Hopkins has 13 receptions for 232 yards and a touchdown. Rangel follows at 17-106 and a touchdown and Jordan Besabe 8-101.
“Our team has continued to get better as the season progressed,” Linebaugh said.
On defense in conference play, Liberty Ranch gave up 22.2 points per game. Linebacker Rosalio Lopez leads the Hawks in tackles with 91. Koepplin, at middle linebacker, is next at 71 and Ricci, playing defensive back, at 56. Defensive backs Elijah Freeman and Dylan Klein each have 31 tackles.
The Hawks’ preseason schedule also played a huge role in earning a playoff berth. Four of the five teams they played — Johnson of Sacramento, Center of Antelope, Amador and Bear River — finished with winning records and playoff berths. Laguna Creek of Elk Grove (7-3) is the lone team that just missed out.
“We have gained a wealth of experience from a challenging schedule,” Linebaugh said.
Foothill (7-3), out of Sacramento, took third place in the Pioneer Valley League. The Mustangs averaged 29.8 points per game on offense in league and gave up 20.6 points per game on defense.
“Foothill is a very balanced, athletic team,” said Linebaugh of the Mustangs. “They have tremendous speed and can score from any part of the field. Their defense is quick to the ball. It is a very athletic group which is tough to block.”
Hosting the first-ever football playoff on campus is being felt among the Hawk players, plus students and faculty on campus, Linebaugh noted.
“It has been a fun week,” Linebaugh said. “All coaches and players have continued to work hard to prepare for the game. We are all looking forward to it.”
Liberty Ranch Principal Joe Saramago added, “Our community, staff, students, parents and players are all very excited about (tonight’s) game.
Hawk Stadium opened its gates at the start of the 2018 football season. The stadium has hosted section playoff games earlier this year; the school’s boys and girls soccer hosted games in February. The Liberty Ranch girls soccer team hosted Orinda in a California Interscholastic Federation NorCal game in March.
In 2015 — before Linebaugh returned to Liberty Ranch — the Hawks hosted their first-ever section D-IV playoff game but at Warrior Stadium on the Galt High campus. Liberty Ranch beat Dixon in the first round and Los Banos in the second. Sierra of Manteca defeated the Hawks in the section title game at Elk Grove High.
Going back to 2009, Linebaugh was named the Liberty Ranch’s first-ever football head coach, as well as one of the school’s teachers. After coaching the team’s junior varsity squad that year, he and the group advanced to the school’s first-ever varsity squad in the 2010 season. The Hawks went 1-9.
The 2011 season for Liberty Ranch football was magical one. Liberty Ranch won its first-ever SVC title, sharing it with Vista del Lago of Folsom. In the first round of the section’s IV playoffs, Liberty Ranch pulled off another first-ever, as it posted a 48-35 win at Calaveras.
Then Liberty Ranch posted another road win, 33-32 over Colfax in the second round. Hilmar ended the Hawks’ flight in semifinals with a 37-7 victory, as Liberty Ranch finished with a 9-4 record.
After the 2011 season, Linebaugh resigned to become the new San Marcos High football head coach in Southern California for four seasons.
Before the start of the 2016 season, Linebaugh, who is also the school’s athletic director, returned to Liberty Ranch. He led the 2016 squad to a share of the SVC title with El Dorado and Cordova. Placer defeated Liberty Ranch in the first round of the section’s D-IV playoffs in Auburn.
Contact Mike Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @MBushLodiSports.