SIOUX CITY | Even undefeated, Erv Strohbeen is not about to let his team relax.
All Strohbeen has to do is think back to a season ago to find the inspiration for the motivation he will give his Sioux City Bandits team as it prepares for the stretch run.
“Last year we were sitting tied with Wichita and the wheels kind of fell off so there is no letting up for this football team,” said Strohbeen of last year’s four-game skid to close the season. “We can’t afford to drop a football game like we started to last year. We have to keep it rolling.”
Bloomington, coming off a 56-34 loss to Western Michigan, sits at 4-2 on the season, two games behind the North-leading Bandits (5-0).
“This is a big game for us because it is the only time we play them this year so it is going to mean a lot in the end as far as tiebreakers are concerned,” Strohbeen said. “I think it is a must-win game because we have to win every series against division opponents.
“We are up a couple games on them so if we can put another loss in their column that is going to go a long ways to us wrapping up a No. 1 seed in our division.”
The Bandits, who are coming off a bye week, spent a good portion of that time trying to clean up mental mistakes that have forced them to work harder than wanted for some wins.
“We have been plagued by a lot of mental errors,” Strohbeen said. “We are 5-0 and we have made a lot of mental errors so you know overall that has been the key focus the past couple of weeks. Eliminating dumb penalties and bad alignments, things that can definitely be cleaned up in the mental aspect.
“Physically we are playing well, we are blocking well, we are running, doing a lot of things right.”
The Bandits are tied with Dodge City for second in the league in rushing. Sioux City has consistently used the running game effectively over the years and is led by Frederick Bruno (169 yards), Dominique Carson (148) and Jeffrey Mack (92). Sioux City running backs have not lost a fumble this season.
The passing game has also benefited from the improved play of Jeremiah Oates (12 reception, 231 yards, four touchdowns).
“We challenged (Oates) a couple of weeks ago that he had to step up in the blocking aspect and he has really stepped up,” Strohbeen said. “We know he can catch the long ball and out run defenses, but he has really stepped up his all-around game.”
The Bandit defense is the second stingiest in the league giving up just 37.6 points a contest and Devon Bridges continues to pace the league with his seven sacks. Cliff Stokes is tied for the league lead with his five interceptions, DeWayne Autrey II is second in the league in tackles at 9.8 per game while Zac Schleuger is fourth at eight.
“(Autrey and Schleuger) are both tackling machines and with Marlon Lobban kind of nursing a little bit of an injury for a couple of weeks, Zac stepped in very nicely for him and I think he learned a lot from watching Lobban," Strohbeen said.
“Autrey is on another level. He has a nose for the football and he wants to get after it every play. He does not take a play off and he is a violent hitter.”
Bloomington, which will be playing its third straight road game, is led by quarterback Caleb Holbrook, who has thrown for 869 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Darrelynn Dunn leads the rushing attack with 155 yards and eight touchdowns, the same number Holbrook has on the ground. Receiver Marcus Lewis has 26 receptions and seven scores.
“I was surprised to see that loss (to Western Michigan) after how handily they took care of Western Michigan the first time around,” Strohbeen said. “I am sure they are mad right now and reeling from one they should have gotten, but they are going to come to town ready, hungry to win this one shot they have against us.”