Liberty Suffer Heartbreaker in Champions Bowl

The Salina Liberty have had their fair share of heartache.

In 2018, Salina lost the Champions Indoor Football Northern Conference Championship at the one-yard line. Back in 2019, the Liberty failed to score from three yards out, losing to Duke City on the final play in Champions Bowl V. Last year, Salina didn’t have a season at all.

What transpired Saturday only added to the lengthy novel about Salina’s heartbreak,

Down by one, the Liberty marched to the Omaha eight-yard line, only to settle for a 23-yard field goal. Instead of jubilation on the field and in the stands at the Tony’s Pizza Events Center, it was sadness as the Beef blocked Jimmy Allen’s potential game-winner, securing a 40-39 win over the Liberty in Champions Bowl VI. The Liberty ended the season with just two losses, both coming at the hands of the Beef.

The first half was featured two stout defenses. The game’s first score came from a fumble recovery by Nick Bittinger after a three-yard carry by receiver Ed Smith to the Beef one. The next two drives featured turnovers – one was a turnover on downs and the other an interception by Salina’s Dontra Matthews – before Omaha strung together an impressive 11-play, 31-yard drive that chewed up 7:26 of clock. But yet, it was just a field goal to make it 7-3 Liberty early in the second.

The Liberty responded with a one-yard TD plunge by quarterback Mitch Kidd to expand the lead to 13-3. Omaha’s next drive had just two plays. The last was an 11-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Andrew Jackson, a former member of the Liberty, to Tyler Jones. Salina tried to match Omaha, but settled for a 21-yard kick by Allen with 4:09 remaining in the half. Omaha’s Jackson was ready for another quick strike, this time a 25-yard pass to Norman Darden.

The PAT was blocked, keeping Salina on top by one. That margin ballooned to four after a last-second 40-yard field goal by Allen to make it 19-15 at the break.

Fireworks followed intermission. Omaha opened the season half with a 49-yard kickoff return for a score by Deshawn Jones. Salina’s opening march featured five runs by tailback Tracy Brooks before QB Tyrie Adams scored on a seven-yard scamper. Omaha turned to the air with Jackson, hooking up with another former Liberty player in Rashad Pargo on a 23-yard connection. Next play, Darden sniffed out the end zone on an eight-yard score, giving Omaha a 27-26 lead with 6:49 left.

With both offenses on a tear, one of the defenses need a stop. Omaha received that break on an interception at the goal line from Taylor Hawkins. Omaha then burned 8:29 off the scoreboard on a 12-play drive, capped by a Jackson TD pass to Jones from five yards out with 12:25 to go in the game.

The Liberty didn’t waver. Instead, Brooks ran for a 14-ard score followed by an Omaha turnover on downs. That breathed life into the Liberty as Adams found receiver Chad Steinwachs for a four-yard score, putting the Liberty ahead 39-33 with 3:43 remaining.

Omaha returned fire with a familiar theme – Jackson to Jones. The signal caller found his main target on a nine-yard score with 1:42 left. After a failed extra point by Salina, Omaha made sure not to miss, giving Omaha a 40-39 advantage.

Salina had a chance for the win, reaching the Omaha eight. However, Omaha broke through the offensive line, and came up with the blocked field goal to win the game.

Jackson enjoyed facing his old team, going 23-of-36 passing for 201 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran five times for 20 yards. Jones had 10 caches for 79 yards and three touchdowns.

Salina was led by always reliable Brooks, who eclipsed 101 rushing yards with a TD on 20 carries. The passing game was limited by Omaha as Adams was just 5-of-9 for 40 yards. Only two Salina receivers caught passes – three by Steinwachs and one by Ed Smith.