AFL Playoff Preview – Southwest Kansas Storm vs. Salina Liberty

The Arena League playoffs are here! The road to ArenaBowl XXXIII starts this weekend. The second matchup on the weekend features the battle of Kansas as the Southwest Kansas Storm leave Dodge City and head up to Salina, where they’ll take on the Liberty. This game will take place on Saturday, July 6th, at 4:00 PM ET on CBS Sports Network. 

How They Got Here 

The Storm enter this game as the #5 seed with a record of 4-5, a record that, on the surface, is a little misleading. Four of their five losses have been by four points or less and came down to the final possessions. Their only big loss came at #2 seed Albany in Week 4 when the Firebirds put the beat down on the Storm. 

That was still early in the season, and they’ve proven in every other game this season they can take control or keep it close. The old adage is it’s better to suffer those debating losses in the regular season to learn how to avoid them in the playoffs. 

The Liberty head into the game as the #3 seed and first-round hosts. They had a regular season record of 6-2 their only losses coming to the #1 seed in the playoffs, the Billings Outlaws, and this Southwest Kansas Storm team. 

Salina has handled almost every challenge with ease. Four of their six wins were by 19 points or more. 

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Previous Matchups 

These teams have already played each other twice. Both games were thrillers, with the home team winning by three points in each matchup. Both are hard-nosed football teams, and this matchup will undoubtedly be another battle. 

The first game, played in Week 1, was won by Salina at home. Caden Walters was the quarterback for the Storm, and Charles McCullum Jr. was the quarterback for the Liberty. 

Both teams’ quarterback situations have evolved over the course of the season. In their second matchup, which took place in Week 6, the Storm claimed victory at home. Both teams had shifted to a two-quarterback situation. For Salina, McCullum and Jamario Benson split time. Matt Struck entered the conversation on the Storm side of things and split time with Walters. 

Their first matchup was a thriller. After a slow start by both sides, Salina jumped out to a 24-point lead. The Storm methodically eroded that lead and came all the way back, falling just short in the end. 

The most recent matchup between these teams was an absolute slugfest. When one team scored the other answered, when one team got a stop the other followed suit.

The Liberty scored a touchdown and four-point conversion with just 1:00 remaining in the game to take the 1-point lead before the Storm got into field goal range and walked it off. 

What to Expect 

The Liberty haven’t played a game since June 15th, when they took down the Wichita Regulators, but they are on a three-game winning streak, easily handling their last three opponents. They are still implementing a two-quarterback system, with McCullum Jr. handling more of the passing work and Benson doing his work on the ground. 

The Storm are coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses but have cemented Matt Struck as their quarterback to stabilize the position. Struck can do it all through the air and on the ground. 

Expect this game to be like a heavyweight prize fight. These teams know each other now, having played twice. It’ll be blow after blow, with everything on the line for what they’ve worked towards all season.

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