Quite a change of events for the Sioux City Bandits late in the second quarter.
Bismarck’s Tyler Floyd cruised into the end zone for a touchdown that would have provided a seventh first-half lead change. However, defensive lineman Devon Bridges knocked the ball loose and Bandits’ cornerback Cliff Stokes Jr. recovered the fumble.
Three plays following the takeaway, quarterback Taylor Genuser fired a 25-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Oates with 16 seconds left before halftime to give the Bandits a 34-24 lead. Sioux City’s defense continued to set up opportunities for its offense as the game progressed and eventually, Coach Erv Strohbeen’s Bandits opened the CIF Playoffs with a 82-43 victory Saturday night at the Tyson Events Center.
“It was a crazy play,” said Stokes. “I saw it pop out at the last second. I couldn’t do nothing but go get it. I was the only one nearest to it, so I ended up getting it. I wanted to return it, but there was really nowhere to go. We got a turnover and that’s what we needed.”
“Bridges punched the ball out,” said Strohbeen. “That turned the tide our way. Otherwise, it could have been a three-point ball game at half if they would have scored, but instead, we went up 10. It would have been a completely different ball game if he wouldn’t have knocked that ball out.”
Defense was the key for the Bandits (10-3), who will host Omaha this Saturday in the Northern Conference title game. A whopping five touchdowns were set up by takeaways – three fumble recoveries (including Westly Johnson’s for a 19-yard touchdown in the third quarter) and two interceptions, thanks to a ferocious pass rush.
Bridges had six tackles, three tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks. Three others had six tackles – Jemichael Williams, Jon Smith and Marlon Lobban – while offensively, Genuser passed for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
Stokes’ fumble recovery was one of two first-half takeaways for the Bandits’ defense. Rahn Franklin intercepted a pass in the end zone that led to a seven-play, 24-yard drive that resulted in the first of three touchdown runs for Dominique Carson (41 yards rushing), a 7-yarder for a 7-0 lead.
Bismarck (5-8), which had gone 1-3 against the Bandits in the regular season, also had a touchdown set up from its defense. Antwan Smith’s interception at the Bucks’ 19-yard line launched a four-play, 31-yard scoring drive that ended with the first of Jauhem Byrd-Mix’s two first-half touchdowns, a 4-yard run which resulted in the first lead change of the game, 10-7 with 1:38 left in the first quarter.
Sioux City’s defense played well in Bismarck’s second-to-the-last possession of the first half. The Bandits, who were leading 27-24 on Carson’s 14-yard run with 3:34 left until halftime, had good defensive line pressure from Johnson and Marcus Miles as Bismarck quarterback Josh Straughan misfired on his first two passes.
Damian Ford gave Bismarck momentum with a 16-yard catch at the Bandits’ 9-yard line and two plays later, Johnson and Stokes stopped Floyd for a one-yard loss. Stokes was flagged for pass interference on a pass in the end zone, but atoned for his mistake with the fumble recovery.
Trailing by 10 points, Bismarck had a chance to pull within closer range eight seconds before halftime, but Bridges sacked Straughan for a four-yard loss and the Bucks missed a long field goal attempt. Sioux City picked up where it left off to begin the third quarter, recovering Bismarck’s onside kick attempt at the Bucks’ 10 and three plays later, Jeffrey Mack followed a block from left guard Arthur Doakes on a 3-yard run that was good for their largest lead at that point, 41-24.
Bridges’ and Johnson’s pressure continued in the third quarter, resulting in the first of two consecutive Bandits’ takeaways. Williams’ interception on a pass intended for Elby Pope, followed by Maurice Young’s 34-yard reception to the Bismarck 2, set up Mack’s touchdown. Then, on Bismarck’s second third-quarter possession, the ball popped loose when Bridges hit Straughan and Johnson returned the fumble recovery 19 yards for a touchdown that increased the lead to 55-24.
“Our defense definitely gave us a lot of opportunities and a lot of stops,” said Strohbeen. “It was great night for our defense, but tonight, all of our guys stepped up and played. It was a really great team win. Everybody was involved. We had a great running game going and the big boys up front played great on both sides of the ball.”