Salina Liberty coach Heron O’Neal and quarterback Derrick Bernard had been saying the team’s young offense was improving each week and getting close to becoming an effective unit.
Saturday night, their trust and belief came to fruition in impressive fashion.
Bernard threw four touchdown passes, Dominique Carson ran for 65 yards and two scores and the defense limited Bismarck to 95 yards the second half in a 50-32 Champions Indoor Football victory at Tony’s Pizza Events Center.
“When we lost (to Omaha a week earlier) I saw baby steps there,” O’Neal said of the offense that scored 37 points. “We took that next step today. We were able to throw the football when we needed to throw the football and we also ran the football better than we’ve run it all year.
“We’ve still got some things to clean up, but we’re definitely doing what we need to do as far as taking the things that we’ve been working on ... and bringing it to the field.”
Bernard was 11 of 18 passing for 124 yards and one interception. His 38-yard touchdown pass to Rashad Pargo, who made a diving catch in the end zone, with 8:41 left in the game extended the Liberty’s lead to 47-32 was effectively sealed the deal.
“Honestly, I saw this coming the first day of practice we had this week,” Bernard said. “It was amazing. I knew the outcome of this game was going to be an onslaught from the get-go because of the way we worked and everybody got after it and started buying in.
“Like I said from the beginning of the year, it’s going to be alright, we’ve just got to take those baby steps and we finally took those baby steps to where we made a big leap tonight.”
Salina (2-1) scored on its first six possessions of the game and led 37-22 at halftime, fueled by Bernard’s three touchdown passes and both of Carson’s rushing TDs.
Bismarck quarterback Tyler Johnson, who threw for 122 yards and rushed for 48 yards, brought the Bucks within 40-32 on a 6-yard touchdown pass Zavier Steward with 9 seconds left in the third quarter.
After Bernard’s lone interception, the Liberty defense forced Bismarck (1-1) to turn the ball over on downs at the Salina 16-yard line. Two plays later Bernard hit Pargo with the long TD strike.
Bismarck had 122 yards rushing and 245 yards, but Salina limited the Bucks to 28 yards rushing the second half, intercepted two passes and pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter.
Travis Taylor had a team-best eight tackles while Gary Wyatt, Barfield and Tyrell Green each had six. Trey Dudley-Giles the other interception and Wyatt notched a sack for Salina.
“The defense has been our lynchpin of what we do,” O’Neal said. “We make the big plays when we need to make big plays. They came in running the ball really well and they ran it really well on us in the first half, but we made some adjustments and shut them down in the second half.
“I’m definitely happy with the way the defense responded to the challenge I gave them at halftime.”
The Liberty head for Texas next Saturday and a game against the Dallas Marshals at 7 p.m. Dallas (1-1) lost to Amarillo 62-42 Saturday in Amarillo, Texas.