In order to secure home field advantage in the upcoming Champions Indoor Football playoffs, the Sioux City Bandits need to conquer one of their oldest rivals on the road Saturday night.
The Bandits (8-2) travel to Ralston, Nebraska, to square off with the Omaha Beef (7-3) at Ralston Arena. In Omaha, the Bandits face one of the hottest teams in the league which would like nothing more than to spoil Sioux City’s plans.
“We told the guys two weeks ago our playoffs started because our goal is to have a home playoff game and have everything come through Sioux City if we make it as far as the championship game,” Bandits Coach Erv Stohbeen said. “In order for us to do that we have to take these last couple games seriously. Omaha is as big of a rivalry as you see and they’re playing great right now.”
Omaha has won seven of nine games since a 63-56 overtime loss to the Bandits on March 31 at Ralston Arena. The Bandits need to win either this game or another road tilt next week at Kansas City in order to clinch the top seed in the North Division, which means home playoff games at least until the championship.
“We expect them to play us pretty tough especially since they’re trying to make the playoffs and knock us out of the first round (at home),” said Bandits multi-purpose standout Frederick Bruno. “I know it’s probably going to be a full house with cowbells ringing like crazy.”
The Bandits maintained their one-game lead over Omaha in the North with a 67-49 victory over the Bismarck Bucks last Saturday at the Tyson Events Center, avenging one of their two losses.
Taylor Genuser completed 10 of 13 passes and threw for four touchdowns and kicker Greg Conroy, named CIF Special Teams Player of the Week, accounted for 17 points.
The Bandits have relied on a strong running game all season, with Dominique Carson (435 yards, 16 TDs), Bruno (363, 13) and Jeffrey Mack (301, 13) doing most of the damage.
It’s been much the same for the Beef, despite losing standout running back Tommy Phillips to a season-ending injury earlier this season. Quarterback Anthony Ianotti has become more of a dual threat with 1102 passing yards and 471 on the ground.
“Their quarterback is pretty dangerous with his legs,” Strohbeen said. “Those types of guys are dangerous and we typically sometimes struggle with guys like that because they spread the field out. We did a good job of keeping him in the pocket in the overtime win so that’s probably how we’re going to have to play it.”
Sioux City’s defense boasts the league leader in both sacks – Derek Bridges with 11 – and interceptions – Cliff Stokes with nine.
“The main thing is we can’t play too uptight, we have to play our game,” Strohbeen said. “Continue to be able to run the ball, so some play action and throw the ball deep and just basically have fun. We have a unique offense and we see the same thing out of Omaha with the jet sweeps and running backs running well. It’s going to be a heavyweight slugfest this week.”
Bruno leads the team in catches with 24 (Maurice Young has 23 and Jeremiah Oates 20), while Oates has a team-high 363 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We’re still looking OK even though the two losses we have are games we should have won,” Bruno said. “Carson, Mack and (Drew) Prohaska are a three-headed monster backfield and any one of them could score on any play.”
The Bandits also defeated the Beef 63-44 in the season opener Feb. 25 at the Tyson Center.