Head coach Heron O’Neal got exactly what he wanted out the Salina Liberty during Saturday night’s exhibition victory and it had nothing to do with the 56-0 final score.
With the start of the regular season now only a week away, O’Neal got a chance to take a look at a number of different players during the win over the Kansas City Marshals. The game at Tony’s Pizza Events Center will be the only exhibition game for the Liberty this season.
“Everyone was looking forward to going against some other guys,” O’Neal said. “We’ve been in camp for two weeks and this was a chance to make some evaluations before we have to make some cuts.
“The score didn’t mean anything to me. We were looking at who can do what and execute at a high level.”
If that was what O’Neal was looking for, he’s got some tough decisions to make this week before the Liberty open next Saturday at Amarillo, Texas.
The Liberty defense forced eight turnovers, including seven interceptions spread out among five different players. Three of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns — one each for Sean Kelley, Jaden Dobb and Caleb Young.
Kelley and Young had two interceptions each, with Dobb, D’Tray Matthews and Tony Rudolph adding one each.
“First of all I would like to give glory to God,” Kelley said. “That was a great team and they came here to compete, but now we’re looking forward to the challenges ahead and hopefully we’ll have a great week of practice.
“We’ve been competing against each other for two weeks straight so it was nice to see another color across the line. Then it was like sharks, getting that taste of blood.”
Kelley’s interception on the game’s second offensive play set the tone and he returned it 19 yards for a quick 6-0 Salina lead. Both teams agreed in the exhibition contest that no extra points would be attempted and there would be no kickoffs after scores or to start either half.
Running back Tracy Brooks had a pair of first-quarter rushing touchdowns, and Salina’s Rayshawn Henderson and Javier Dyer combined on a sack in the end zone for a safety, giving the Liberty a 20-0 lead after one quarter.
Running back Derek Kendall had the first of his three rushing touchdowns early in the second quarter and Dobb’s 16-yard touchdown return put the lead at 32-0 at halftime.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, but Kendall added two more touchdown carries in the fourth. Salina also got a 12-yard scoring run from Curry Parham II, the third quarterback used by the Liberty, and Young capped the scoring with his 24-yard interception return.
“We had a very competitive camp and we had a lot of players capable of playing a lot of different positions,” O’Neal said. “We sat eight guys today who didn’t need to prove anything after our camp, but we played 22 guys tonight.
“We did have a couple of bumps and bruises, but nobody was injured tonight and that’s the number one thing. It was a chance for the rookies to get out here and see the dimensions that we play on, and that can be huge for the guys that are playing with us for the first time.”
The Marshals finished with 19 yards of total offense, including minus-15 rushing. The Liberty had 120 yards rushing on 16 carries, and the three Salina quarterbacks combined for 69 yards passing on eight completions.
“We’re going to have to make a lot of progress this season,” Kelley said. “We have to come together and make a brotherhood, keeping God first.
“If we come together as a team, we’ll be able to compete against anybody.”