May 06, 2022

Liberty host Outlaws in potential playoff preview

Posted May 06, 2022 10:40 PM

By TYLER HENRY
Little Apple Post contributor

Coverage of Liberty Football is presented by Ryan Roofing
Coverage of Liberty Football is presented by Ryan Roofing

With the first half of the CIF season in the books, the Salina Liberty will look to finish strong, starting with an opportunity to avenge a 42-34 loss to Billings this Saturday in front of a home crowd.

At 3-2, the Liberty find themselves in the middle of the pack with five games left to play, but with a newly acquired QB and a renewed sense of focus, Salina has an excellent opportunity to climb through the ranks before postseason play in June.

When the Liberty and Outlaws met in Billings back in early April, both defenses put on a show, as neither team found the end zone for a majority of the second half.

Unfortunately, two untimely fumbles set the Outlaws up for a big 14-point swing that they would use to take their maiden CIF win.

“You’re not going to beat this Billings team in the 30s,” Salina HC Heron O’Neal said. “We gave them 14 points off turnovers but if we can limit that we’ll give ourselves a great shot.”

Both Liberty losses this season were sustained while shorthanded, with O’Neal and a handful of players serving two-game suspensions from the league.

Outside of that sample size, Salina is 3-0 with a win over the reigning champion Omaha Beef, and this game provides an opportunity for the Liberty to take down another title hopeful.

 “Billings has great leadership on both sides of the ball,” O’Neal said. “D’Nerius Antione played linebacker in the NFL and Charles McCullum is number one in IFL history in almost every passing category. This team also has five NFL linemen between the two sides so they’re supremely stacked up front and they add one of the best receivers to ever play in Tyron Laughinghouse.”

Laughinghouse, who caught a pivotal touchdown in the first meeting between the two, has racked up a league-leading 11 touchdowns thanks to the stellar QB play of McCullum, who himself leads the league with 22 touchdown passes.

“McCullum has a lot of experience above his shoulders,” he said. “He calls his own plays, he has championship experience and his arm talent and speed are still there. He looks like what someone would come up with in a Madden’s “create-a-player.”

Opposite the veteran gunslinger will be Vincent Espinoza, who dazzled in his first start since college, helping the Liberty take down Rapid City last week.

“Espinoza is the guy moving forward,” O’Neal said. “He was very efficient and had three touchdowns to only one interception so I was very happy with that. He’s an intelligent kid and it takes a lot to rattle him, we’re very impressed with him.”

Salina and Billings currently rank 3rd and 4th in scoring offense and defense, and will be primed to put on a show in a potential playoff preview on Saturday.

Kickoff between the Liberty and Outlaws is set for 6:35 pm at the Tony’s Pizza Events Center, and will be one of the final two home games of the regular season. To purchase tickets click here.

As always the game can also be heard on KINA (910 AM or 107.5 FM) courtesy of Eagle Radio.