Salina Liberty pick up road victory against Topeka in Champions Indoor Football opener

It took the Salina Liberty a quarter to work out the bugs, but once they did it was business as usual for the defending Champions Indoor Football regular-season champions.

The Liberty took the lead late in the first half and then cruised the rest of the way Saturday night to a 54-33 victory over the expansion Topeka Tropics at Stormont Vail Event Center in Topeka.

“The defense was the story of the second half (and) the offense was the story of the first half,” Liberty coach Heron O’Neal said.

Topeka, which fell to 0-2, led 27-22 in the second quarter before the Liberty scored a pair of late touchdowns to lead 36-27 at halftime, then took control in the third quarter.

Rookie running back Tre Griffin had a big first half for the Liberty (1-0), scoring three touchdowns before giving way to reigning CIF most valuable player Tracy Brooks.

“He really kept us in the game in the first half, O’Neal said of Griffin, who played at Hutchinson Community College. “He’s the guy that we leaned on and he came through with flying colors.

“We just wanted to see, because this was (Griffin’s) first indoor football game period, so for him to get the start at running back and also as our No. 1 kick returner, that was experience that you can’t replicate in a scrimmage or anything.”

Griffin returned a kickoff for a touchdown, only to have it called back on a penalty. The Liberty had two called back in the game.

Second-year quarterback Tyrie Adams also had a solid game.

“Tre was a very explosive ballplayer for us, but Tyrie (Adams) was as well,” O’Neal said. “He made good decisions pretty much all night. I was very impressed with this being his first game of the season.

“We’ve got to clean up some of the other stuff. We did not play well in the secondary at all, so we had to make some adjustments in the second half, and once we made those adjustments, we played a whole lot better.”

The secondary got burned several times in the first half by veteran Tropics quarterback Frank Seurer, another Hutchinson Community College alum who went on to Kansas after that. But the Liberty was locked in the second half and came down with four interceptions for the game with Dontra Matthews, Kendrick Harper, Evan Ray and Coray Williams each grabbing one.

“Once we made the adjustments and our secondary started making plays — started seeing what was going on out there — we definitely made the plays that we needed to moving forward,” O’Neal said. “It definitely helped us, big time.

“Defensively we were very shaky at the beginning. The second half the defense settled down and held them to one touchdown, so that was a complete smother. The d-line was coming, and we had a lot of pressure (on the quarterback).”

No statistics were available from the game, but O’Neal came away impressed with the Tropics, who were making their home debut.

“I think a lot of people were sleeping on them, but they battled all the way through,” he said. “I’m definitely happy that we did get out of here with a win and now we’ve got to look at the film and make these corrections.”

The Liberty play their home opener next Saturday at Tony’s Pizza Events Center against the Omaha Beef. It will be a rematch of last year’s Champions Bowl, won by the Beef, 40-39, on a last-second blocked field goal.