The Salina Liberty erased a 13-point halftime deficit on Saturday to hand the Billings Outlaws their second loss of the season by a final score of 34-19.
This win moves Salina from the middle of the pack to a tie for second with the Outlaws and Storm at 4-2 with a big four-game swing ahead to close out the season.
“This is the last time we play at home for two weeks so to get this one in front of our crowd was huge,” Liberty HC Heron O’Neal said. “All we can do is control our own destiny and put ourselves in a position to give ourselves a shot. You can’t win a championship if you don’t make the playoffs.”
The Outlaws, who came back to defeat the Liberty 42-34 earlier this season, picked up right where they left off, blanking Salina in the first half and closing out both quarters with a score to take a 13-0 lead into the intermission.
From there, the Liberty switched it up to slowly chip away at the Outlaw advantage and eventually build a lead of their own.
“We ran a bunch of things in the first half to see what worked and my assistants really put a great plan together in the second half and made all the right calls,” O’Neal said. “The credit goes to them.”
Billings had missed two field goals in the first half and in the third quarter another attempt at three came up short to Dewayne Autrey, who hit the afterburners to house the return from 45-yards out.
Still pitching a second-half shutout, the defense got to work wreaking havoc as Tron Folsom scooped up a fumble and took it 16-yards to paydirt to give the Liberty their first lead of the day 14-13.
Billings battled back and elected to go for it on a fourth and goal but K-Hop sprung into action and picked off McCullum’s pass to put the Liberty offense back on the field.
Perhaps inspired by the support of their defense and special teams, the Salina offense kicked things into high gear, finding their first points of the contest on a pitch and catch from Espinoza to Washington to begin to pull away.
McCullum would find Garry Brown to pull the Outlaws back within two but the Liberty would rattle off 13 unanswered courtesy of their running game to bookend a Dontra Matthews interception and put the game away for good.
“Our defense played with the heart of a lion and they kept us in that game,” O’Neal said. “To play the way they did and with our special teams playing the way they did, I loved it. This was a battle of two gladiators and we were the last man standing.”
The Liberty will now turn their attention to a long road trip that will see them at Omaha on May 14th, Sioux City on the 21st, and SW Kansas on June 4th, with one final home game against Topeka on May 28th.