Venom Win In Breathtaking Fashion Over Salina

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

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In an otherwise back-and-forth battle, the Amarillo Venom used a late push to defeat the Salina Liberty 71-58 on Saturday night at the Amarillo Civic Center Complex Cal Farley Coliseum.

The first meeting between the Venom and the Liberty was tied at 58-58 with 1:31 left to play, before quarterback Nate Davis flung a 36 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Raymond Johnson Jr., who crashed into the wall while grabbing the go-ahead score.

“I just want to put the team on my back and let them know that if I’m here, then that means that they can follow and come out with this win,” Johnson Jr. said, who turned in a strong second half performance against Salina.

On the ensuing possession, the Liberty had the ball at the Amarillo 18 yard line and looked to tie up the game once more.

Salina quarterback Derek Racette found wide receiver Zach McClain for an 11 yard reception before Amarillo wide receiver/defensive back Julian Walker stripped McClain.

“I just did anything to make us win,” Walker said. “The ball popped out and I thought that the referee blew the whistle. I started celebrating and getting all happy, so I threw the ball to the fans in the stands.”

Unknown to the St. Joseph’s College product, the play was still live with 40 seconds to go, which prompted Salina offensive lineman Derrick Eshelman to give Walker chase to save the game-clinching touchdown. Defensive lineman Ra’Shondric Sheppard, who was heading down the field to catch up with Walker, was caught in a block by Eschelman.

The Tascosa and West Texas A&M grad then suffered a season-ending leg injury, which halted play and silenced the home crowd.

“At first we thought that it was something illegal,” Venom head coach Julian Reese said. “But it really wasn’t, it was just two guys going hard. He’s hurt, so we’re praying for him and we’re hoping for a speedy recovery.”

On Sunday, Sheppard appeared on the Amarillo Venom Facebook page to thanking the fans for their support and reassured that he will “be back soon.”

Once the game was restarted, running back Wyreaz Bradley rumbled into paydirt from 17 yards out with 33 seconds left.

Another highlight which shifted the momentum toward the Venom’s favor late was Johnson Jr., who filled in the defensive back spot, laid a hard hit to Salina wide receiver Joe Kassanavoid. This forced the Kansas State grad to drop the ball, as see the Liberty resort to a long field goal with 3:30 to go in the game.

“We play football for a reason,” Johnson Jr. said of the hit. “Just because they’re big and tall doesn’t mean you’re supposed fear. I didn’t fear, so I came up and hit him. He dropped the ball, our ball, there you go. End of story.”

Johnson Jr. then converted the field goal kick into a 41-yard return, which set up a quick Davis touchdown pass to wide receiver Kent McDonald to take a 58-51 lead with 3:16 left.

Venom wide receiver/defensive back Greg Jones also got in on the action early in the first half, capturing an interception in the endzone with less than seven minutes left in the first quarter.

“I really want to talk about Greg Jones and Julian Walker,” Reese said, praising his playmakers. “These are two receivers who we started at defensive back. We had one guy quit, had another get hurt and that’s what football is about: stepping up and doing a great job. Those two gentlemen really stepped up and that was outstanding. Another player I was really excited about was Kent McDonald. I challenged him this week, had a little man-to-man talk and he showed up, especially in the second half. I’m very proud of him.”

No game stats were reported to the Amarillo Globe-News.

The Venom will go back on the road this week, facing off against the San Angelo Bandits at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Foster Communications Coliseum in San Angelo. Amarillo will return home on May 7, hosting the San Angelo Bandits for the final game in their three-game season series.

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