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Salina, KS-Dodge City proved a week ago that no deficit is insurmountable in indoor football; climbing out of a 22-point hole to beat Wichita. Seven days later, it nearly happened again. This time, they were almost on the wrong end.
Free agent signee DJ Abnor ran for three scores, Andrew Jackson threw for 142 yards and a touchdown in relief of injured Rudy Johnson, and Dodge City held on for a 34-32 victory over Salina at the Bicentennial Center on Saturday.
“It wasn’t pretty in the second half,” Law Head Coach Sean Ponder said. “But we got the win. I’m not going to complain about being 3-0.”
The game looked like it was over once Abnor punched it in from six yards out. Dodge City (3-0) added the two-point conversion and led 34-14 with 6:39 to go.
“We have to close games better,” Ponder said. “You can’t let a team off the hook.”
Salina (0-3) made things interesting the next time they had the ball, capping a five-play, 36-yard drive when Josh Floyd hit Tracy Brooks for a four-yard touchdown. Ricky Wyatt blocked the extra point, but the Liberty cut the deficit to 14 with 4:19 to play.
“It was the snowball effect after that,” Ponder said.
Dodge City handed Salina a gift on their next possession when Abrnor was stripped by Ben Kimbrough at the Liberty 5. Isiah Barfield scooped up the loose ball and raced 45 yards to the end zone, making it 34-26 (Pete Smith missed the extra point) with 1:06 remaining.
“DJ played well,” Ponder said. “That was an unfortunate play. You just can’t turn the ball over like that on the road.”
The Law had a chance to run out the clock on their ensuing possession. But the Liberty caught a massive break when Jackson gave himself up behind the line of scrimmage on a bootleg to the left. In the final minute, the ball carrier has to cross the line of scrimmage in order for the clock to continue to run.
“We gave them life,” Ponder explained.
Three plays later, Jared Wood left a 53-yard field goal well short. Barfield caught it seven yards deep in the end zone and returned it 32 yards to the Dodge City 18. A personal foul and an offside on Dodge City moved the ball to the 4. Then, on second-and-goal, Floyd hit Joe Kassanavoid for a four-yard touchdown to pull the Liberty to within two.
“The game is never over in this league,” Ponder said. “We came back last week. But I felt that if we made a few more plays in the second half, the game was over.”
On the two-point conversion try, Floyd connected with Ed Smith on a screen pass to the left. But the wide out’s path to the end zone was well impeded, and Tyrell Green tackled him for a two-yard loss.
“That was a heck of a play by the entire defense,” Ponder said. “They all flowed towards the ball. It was a great effort.”
The Liberty’s last chance to pull off the miracle comeback fizzled out when Smith’s onside kick was recovered by Dodge City’s Daniel McKinney, giving the Law their second straight 3-0 start.
“There are plenty of things to correct,” Ponder admitted. “It just came down to execution. We made a lot of good plays in this game, but we allowed them a chance to tie or win the game.”
Ponder also lost Johnson late in the second quarter after his starting quarterback took a shot under the chin following a 14-yard run.
“He had some cobwebs it appeared after that hit,” Ponder said. “The trainer looked him over, and we decided to stick with Drew.”
Jackson finished 9-of-17 for 142 yards and a touchdown, but did throw an end-zone interception early in the fourth when he was victimized by former Law defensive back Delaney Dobard.
Abnor carried the ball 17 times for 63 yards for Dodge City, who won their first game at the Bicentennial Center since April, 2015. McKinney added seven catches for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Floyd, who spent two years as Ponder’s starting signal caller, was 15-of-29 for 93 yards, three touchdowns and a pick. He ran it 10 times for 41 yards and a score. Kassanavoid caught five balls for 35 and a touchdown.
“It’s a good feeling to be 3-0,” Ponder said. “But we can’t be satisfied. We have to figure out the right pieces for this team. We have a lot of good parts.”
The Law started strong on their opening drive, converting two third downs before McKinney blasted in from eight yards out for a 7-0 lead.
Salina had a chance to tie the game after a personal foul penalty against Dodge City put them in the red zone. But Floyd’s second-down pass was intercepted by Green in the end zone, giving the Law the ball back at the 5.
“Our defense is really good,” Ponder said. “They had their moments in this game.”
The Liberty eventually got the equalizer when Floyd hit David Gianesin for a six-yard touchdown with 4:33 to play in the first. But the Law responded with a six-play, 40-yard drive, highlighted by Abnor’s 20-yard sprint to pay dirt on fourth-and-1 that made it 14-7 late in the opening frame.
Dodge City extended the lead on the back of Abrnor’s second rushing touchdown with 26 seconds to go in the first half. Wood missed the extra point, and the Law had a 20-7 halftime edge. They stretched that to 26-7 in the opening stages of the fourth when Jackson connected with McKinney on a comeback route for a 10-yard touchdown.
Floyd countered for Salina with a 12-yard rushing touchdown that brought the Liberty back to within 12 26-14 with 12:20 left.
“We’ll go back and look at everything,” Ponder said. “I think our guys have a good feel for what we are doing.”
Next up: Dodge City vs. Salina-Saturday, March 25-6 p.m. pregame; 6:35 p.m. kick on 98.1 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kskz and KSKZ mobile app
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