By TYLER HENRY
Salina Post contributor
With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Salina Liberty will return to Tony’s Pizza Events Center one final time for a meeting with the Sioux City Bandits.
Salina comes into this game in third place at 6-2, with a chance to lock up at least the 3-seed if they can knock off the fourth-place Bandits who will enter this contest at 5-3.
When these two CIF titans clashed earlier this year in Sioux City the Liberty fell 45-39, but the team that takes to the field in this one will look much different from that earlier rendition.
“If you look at the personnel we have now we’ve added 15 different players that we didn’t have in that first Sioux City game,” Salina head coach Heron O’Neal said. “There are only ten guys that were on the roster the first time we played so they could have a tough time scouting us.”
A lot remains on the table for the Liberty, who could finish the year as high as the 2-seed with a first-round bye and the right to host a semifinal, or as low as the four-seed.
Despite these implications, Salina is approaching this game the same way they always do, and not a single hint of desperation looms in the Liberty locker room.
“When you talk about a ‘must win’ game you’re talking about something with a real consequence and we don’t believe in that in the regular season,” O’Neal said. “Make no mistake, these are big games. We’re still fighting for that number two seed and we really want to win both.”
In order to even the season series with Sioux City, Salina must find an answer for Bandit Gunslinger Tasleem Wilson, who sits second in the league with 989 passing yards, and leads the league by a wide margin with 29 touchdown passes.
“All you can do is contain Tas because you’re not going to stop him,” O’Neal said. “He’s a great football player and he has an arm from God. He’s going to make big plays but we can’t get discouraged and we have to keep pressure on him and keep his options covered.”
This time around, Wilson will find himself in a duel with rookie hotshot Ed Crouch, who has been electric since taking the helm under center, and leads a young core from Salina against one of the most experienced teams in the CIF.
“Sioux City is the most veteran team in the league and they’ve got experience at every position,” he said. “They know how to play the game and they’re not going to beat themselves. This won’t be an easy game and we’re still learning some things with our rookies but we’ll have them ready come game time.”
Kickoff between the Liberty and Bandits is scheduled for 6:35 pm at Tony’s Pizza Events Center and as always the game can be heard on KINA (910 AM or 107.5 FM) courtesy of Eagle Radio.