One year ago, the Salina Liberty lost the Champions Indoor Football Northern Conference Championship at the one-yard line.
Fast forward to 2019 and the scene was much different.
Defensive lineman Jake Lattimer sprinted next to the wall with his arms in the air. Coach Heron O’Neal collected the trophy and was lifted by his players. The Liberty are 2019 CIF Northern Conference champions.
Tailback Tracy Brooks had four touchdowns, defensive back Dontra Matthews broke up a pass on a potential game-tying two-point conversion, and the Salina Liberty withstood the late charge by the Omaha Beef, advancing to the CIF Championship with a 44-42 victory at Tony’s Pizza Events Center. Salina heads to Albuquerque on July 13 to face the CIF Southern Conference champion Duke City Gladiators.
Salina was locked in from the start, scoring 21 straight points. Every touchdown came from Brooks, who had TD runs of 8, 3 and 6 yards. Omaha erased the goose egg on the board in the second, following a 28-yard field goal from Zeke Arevalo.
That sparked the Beef, who climbed to within seven points after a two-yard TD pass from quarterback Derrick Bernard to Julian Stafford with 13 seconds remaining. The Liberty wasted no time padding the cushion as quarterback Andrew Jackson hit receiver Daniel McKinney for a 25-yard score as time expired, pushing the Liberty lead to 37-23 at the break.
Following a scoreless third, Omaha put the pressure on Salina. Bernard scampered into the end zone from five yards out to trim the deficit to 37-29 with 11:34 to go in the game. Salina had a huge response on a scoring drive that lasted over four minutes, capped by a two-yard score by Brooks.
Omaha wasn’t finished. Bernard found Stafford for another touchdown, making the score 44-36 with 3:09 remaining. On the ensuing drive, Salina settled for a field goal, but kicker Jimmy Allen missed for the first time in the game.
That set up a Bernard four-yard sprint as time expired. Bernard nearly had the tying two-point conversion pass, but Matthews patiently waited at the goal line to preserve the victory.
Brooks paced the Liberty offensively with 147 total yards and four scores. Jackson was 20-of-25 passing for 201 yards and a touchdown. Allen was 3-for-4 on field goal tries and a perfect 5-for-5 on extra points.
Omaha’s Bernard had 238 total yards with five touchdowns. Stafford hauled in six catches for 61 yards and three touchdowns.