SIOUX CITY | Less than an hour after a disappointing end to the season, Sioux City Bandits head coach Erv Strohbeen struggled to find words.
The 55-45 loss to Omaha in the North Conference championship game brought to close a season that held so much promise for so long.
"I don't even know what to say, I am just disappointed because this group of guys worked so hard to get here and put in a lot of effort," he said. "I have got great character guys and it is disappointing to see it end this way."
A 6-0 start showed this was a team that was going to be in contention into the summer as it closed at 10-4 with a core group of veterans that wanted to win a title to make it four in the past seven seasons.
The question now becomes what will Sioux City look like next season with key players like linebacker Marlon Lobban saying this was his final run with the team. Defensive back Jon Smith has made the same claim on social media while Rahn Franklin also said minutes after the final snap of the 2017 season that he is leaning toward calling it a career.
"Me and (offensive coordinator Jarrod) DeGeorgia and (defensive coordinator John Zevenbergen) we put this team together seven years ago and you have Jon Smith, Rahn Franklin, Lobban, Frederick Bruno. All those guys are the core and heart and soul of this team," Strohbeen said. "You want to get the win for those kind of guys when they are selling out doing all the community events for you, holding this team together."
The important thing to remember is that until next season begins none of this can be taken as an absolute certainty with emotions high after a tough loss like the one Saturday night.
The team was fortunate to avoid major injury but also had to deal with a challenging schedule that had it home early and on the road a lot late. The geography of the Champions Indoor Football league also led to an imbalanced schedule that saw the Bandits play Bismarck and Omaha four times each.
This year's Bandits will perhaps most be remembered for an awesome collection of running backs playing behind an impressive offensive line. The entire offensive line of guards Arthur Doakes and Darius Barnes and center Matt Rahn were named first-team all-league while running back Dominique Carson was the first-team kick returner and second-team running back.
"I had the best offensive line in the league, three best running backs in the league, we were running the ball all over everybody," said Strohbeen, who also deployed Jeffrey Mack, Frederick Bruno and Drew Prohaska in the backfield. "We didn't have to roll this roster over one time. I think we brought Marcus Miles back after a couple weeks because we needed a two-way player, but otherwise we didn't roll the roster over at any point during the year."
Quarterback Taylor Genuser, in his first season with the Bandits, was not asked to throw as often but still led a strong Sioux City offense. He threw for 1,716 yards with 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
"Taylor just told me that this is the first time that he has played indoor football where everything is about family, everybody buys into the goal," Strohbeen said. "There are no me players out there, there is not one guy out there saying put me in I could have done better.
"I am proud of them for that because they stuck to our goal. I am proud of all of these guys."
Defensively, DeWayne Autrey II led the way with 100 tackles, Cliff Stokes Jr. had an impressive eight interceptions and Devon Bridges set the Bandit single-season record for sacks with 14 and put up the second-best mark for tackles for loss with 22.
"We had a couple record-breakers and a ton of guys on a the all-league list," Franklin said. "It was a really special crew and we appreciate having the time together this season. We just didn't do what we needed to do to get to the goal we were chasing all season."
Kicker Greg Conry hit 20 of 33 field goals during the season to give the Bandits a strong weapon in special teams.
Next season will mark the 19th for the Bandits as they will be in search of their eighth straight playoff appearance.