By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
Playing shorthanded has become the norm for the Liberal Redskins, but the roster took another hit Friday in a 30-6 loss to Dodge City.
The loss was Liberals 13th straight in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Redskins were trying to fill the huge ga left in the middle of the defense when Justin McPhail suffered a knee injury last week, and for a half, it appeared they had made the needed adjustments.
Trailing 14-7 to start the second half, Dodge City discovered the opening in the middle and exploited it the rest of the game.
McPhail’s middle linebacker spot became the target of a running attack up the middle, and Dodge City quarterback Taylor Murphy hit crossing rout after crossing rout right in the middle of the field to lead the Red Demons to three second-half scoring drives.
Liberal also had to cover for Zach Stout midway through the third quarter when he and a Red Demon tangled, grabbing each other’s facemasks and grappling on the turf until the official separated the pair and ejected both from the game.
By that time, Liberal trailed 24-7.
“We are playing hard,” Liberal coach Cliff Abbott said. “I love the effort. Even late in the game we are still competing. But mistakes killed us.”
Those mistakes included a host of illegal procedure calls and poor communication between quarterback Britton Abbott and his receivers. Abbott threw 14 incompletions and three interceptions bu completed eight passes for 103 yards.
Abbott also accounted for Liberal’s only touchdown when he broke through the line on a quarterback keeper, made another Red Demon miss at midfield and outran two Dodge City Red Demons to the end zone for a 79 yard touchdown.
For the second straight week, Liberal battled early and drove the ball into Dodge City territory on the first drive of the game.
But an interception ended the threat.
Neither team scored in the first quarter, and the two teams attributed for four turnovers, two each, in the first seven minutes of the game.
Dodge City put a scoring drive together midway through the second quarter after a short-field drive went 45 yards in six plays that ended with a five-yard quarterback keeper for the score.
Dodge moved to a 14-0 lead when Murphy completed a pass to Jordan Doan over the middle, and Doan broke free for a 78 yard gain. Trenton Hammond made a touchdown saving tackle at the 9 yard line, but Dyan Trevizo ran the ball in to the end zone on the next play.
That’s when Abbott broke loose on his long touchdown run to narrow the gap to 14-7.
Isaac Gallegos intercepted a Murphy pass on the next drive, and the Redskins had a chance to tie the game before half with the ball at the Dodge City 46 yard line.
Instead, an incompletion, a sack for a 12-yard loss and an illegal procedure penalty moved the ball back to the Redskin 37 yard line and the Redskins were forced to punt.
In the second half, it was all Dodge City.
The Redskins had two more scoring opportunities, but mistakes again hurt Liberal.
The Redskins successfully executed a fake punt, but a holding penalty negated the play.
Liberal had the ball on the Red demon goal line, but JJ Lewis could not win the jump ball in the end zone and Dodge City intercepted the pass to deny the Redskins a touchdown.
Abbott ended the game with 148 yards rushing and 103 yards passing. He carried the ball 21 times and attempted 22 passes.
While Stout may have been ejected, it was an indication that the Redskins were going to battle throughout the game.
“We try to play with pride and on conditioning,” Abbott said. “The biggest muscle that we use is the heart. We have to get back to being Redskins playing with heart.”
Liberal will try to break its winless streak in the WAC Friday when Garden City comes to Redskin Field for Homecoming. Former Liberal coach Gary Cornelsen will also be honored with a dedication ceremony naming some of the athletic facilities the Gary Cornelsen Sports Complex.
Garden City upset Hays 24-21 Friday.
“Thats great for Garden City,” Abbott said. “They will be excited. We thought Hays was one of the best teams in the WAC, and we were right there with them. We are going to need a mental focus, be conditioned and mentally strong.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Redskin Field.