SIOUX CITY | This time it proved to be just a little too hard to beat the same team four times.
A touchdown with 11 seconds left gave the Omaha Beef the lead and an interception return for a score sealed it as they downed Sioux City 55-45 for the Northern Conference title in front of 2,407 fans at the Tyson Events Center on Saturday.
The Bandits took the lead on a 23-yard field goal by Greg Conry with 3:29 to play, but the Beef responded with a seven-play drive capped by Skyler Scott's 23-yard TD reception with 18 seconds remaining.
"Our team fought hard all year and I want to say so much about the officiating in this game it is ridiculous," Bandits Coach Erv Strohbeen said. "Fumble in the first half, block in the back on their touchdown. Probably get some kind of reprimand but the officiating sucked tonight.
"It took away from two hard-fought ball clubs trying to go at it. Hats off to the Beef because they have turned this program around."
The ensuring Beef kickoff went out of the back of the end zone to put the Bandits at midfield, but Taylor Genuser's first pass was intercepted by Chris Perry and returned 41 yards for the score.
The Bandits were after their fourth title in seven seasons and had beaten the Beef all three times they had met in the regular season. The loss snapped a seven-game win streak against the Beef (9-5) for Sioux City (10-4), the regular season conference champs.
"I think it just exemplifies the fine details and taking care of business," Bandits defensive back Rahn Franklin said. "A team you are capable of beating you can't take any play for granted.
"You gave it a chance to go either way and it just wasn't our time."
After both teams opened the second half by trading touchdowns, the Beef came up with a big stop on defense. Faced with a fourth-and-1 on the 3 the Bandits gave the ball to Frederick Bruno only to have him stuffed to turn the ball over on downs.
"The Beef did a good job of stopping us in the red zone, we didn't execute down there," Strohbeen said.
The Beef held on to the ball the remaining 6:18 of the third quarter before settling for a 24-yard field goal that sailed wide left to keep the game tied at 35-all early in the fourth quarter. It was Tucker Milliken's third missed field goal of the game.
The Bandits drove down the field for the go-ahead score a Jeffrey Mack 5-yard touchdown reception from Genuser, but Omaha responded on its first play of the next possession on a 25-yard strike from Anthony Iannotti to Jonathan Ray to knot up the score once again.
The Bandit defense, which has put pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season long led by Devon Bridges' single-season club record of 14 sacks, came up with two stops to begin the second quarter. Linebacker Marlon Lobban forced a Beef field goal attempt with an 11-yard sack of Iannotti to set up the 39-yard attempt that sailed wide.
Sioux City made Omaha's defense pay after the second stop as Mack rumbled 15 yards for his second touchdown of the first half to put the Bandits up 21-13 with 3:48 to go in the half.
After Omaha scored with 49 seconds to go in the first half it was Mack time again as he took the ensuing kickoff a yard into the end zone and raced 51 yards for his third score of the first half. Mack was caught at the 3-yard line but landed on top of the defender and rolled into the end zone.
However, just like the regular season games, the Beef were not going anywhere. Travis Ribbing hauled in a 34-yard pass and Omaha scored on a 3-yard pass reception by Scott. With Iannotti's 2-point conversion the game was tied at 28-all at halftime.
Iannotti threw for 155 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 30 more yards.
The Bandits set the tone early for what they wanted to do as Mack carried the ball on all four plays of the opening drive, ripping off runs of 22 and 14 yards. The latter was good for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-all.
The Bandits had nearly 100 yards rushing in the first half behind their three first-team all-league offensive linemen, and Mack and Carson ran for 66 and 61 yards, respectively, with four touchdowns between them.
Omaha will now have to wait to see who it plays for the Champions Indoor Football league title as Amarillo and Texas square off for the Southern Conference title Monday night.