By TYLER HENRY
Salina Post contributor
With just four games to play in the regular season, the 4-2 Salina Liberty will begin a long road stretch with a Saturday evening showdown against the Omaha Beef.
Salina took the first meeting between the two back in March as the team pulled out a fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the reigning champs 36-31.
“Most of these games come down to who makes more plays in the fourth quarter and in the first meeting with Omaha we got the big play when it mattered most to win it,” Salina Head Coach Heron O’Neal said.
The Liberty have been heating up at the right time, handing the Billings Outlaws their second loss of the season last week to advance to 4-2, vaulting themselves into third place in the CIF in the process.
“That was a great win in front of a great crowd,” O’Neal said. “Our defense and special teams played phenomenally and our offense woke up in the fourth quarter. It was great but we’re on to Omaha now.”
This iteration of the Beef will look much different from the one Salina faced in week two, and may look a lot more like the team they fell to in last year's CIF Championship game.
“Omaha got some big pieces back from last year’s team that they didn’t have on the roster the first time we played them,” he said. “This game will be a little bit different and we’ll have to make some adjustments.”
The Liberty will have a few new faces to throw at Omaha themselves as rookie quarterback Vincent Espinoza prepares to make his third-ever CIF start hoping to remain undefeated in his Liberty career.
While Salina has won both games with Espinoza under center, ball protection and downfield vision will be paramount in a high-stakes game like this.
“We haven’t protected the football well in these last few games and we have to cut down on our turnovers and make better decisions,” O’Neal said. “With that being said we have to be willing to take our shots, we’ve left a lot of points on the board these last few weeks.”
On the other side the Liberty defense, which ranks best in the league allowing just 28 points per game, will once again be tasked with slowing quarterback Andrew Jackson. Jackson sits atop the league averaging 173 passing yards per game with a top-two touchdown tally of 22 this season.
“It all starts with finding ways to contain Jackson,” he said. “He was the offensive player of the year last year for a reason and we’ll have to play mistake play football while remaining aggressive on him.”
While Salina’s playoff hopes should be in good shape, the team remains laser-focused on taking things one game at a time and will have plenty of motivation to try and sweep the Beef in front of a rowdy Omaha crowd on Saturday.
Kickoff between the Liberty and Beef is set for 7:05 PM in Omaha and as always the game can be heard on KINA (910 AM or 107.5 FM) courtesy of Eagle Radio.