SALINA, Kan. – The Sioux City redemption tour continues with a road trip.
Sioux City opened up the playoffs last week with a 54-46 victory over Quad Cities, now the Bandits play for the North Conference title Saturday against Salina. Both Quad Cities and Salina handed Sioux City a loss during a three-game skid that was sandwiched by a four-game winning streak before it and the current six victories the team has enjoyed since.
“I told the guys coming into the playoffs that they were going to play Quad Cities and they could very well play Salina and it was our chance for redemption,” Bandits coach Erv Strohbeen said. “I told them with Wichita on the other side, they may have a chance to correct all of your losses from the year.
“That is the great thing about football. You play somebody two or three times in a year and it doesn’t matter, it is who wins the last one.”
To advance to the team’s fifth title game since 2011, the Bandits will need to play a cleaner game that it did against Quad Cities when it lost the turnover battle 3-1.
“We talked at halftime that we weren’t putting ourselves in the right position to win but we were hanging in there,” Strohbeen said. “We had two costly turnovers inside the 5-yard line.”
The experience was the first in the postseason for several players in a Bandits uniform and Strohbeen expects they will learn and grow from the experience heading into the weekend.
“A lot of these guys had not played in a playoff game in the CIF or indoor football at all,” he said. “That is a big feat in itself. We have some veteran guys with Frederick Bruno, Arthur Doakes and Darius Barnes, Matt Rahn. That has all got to tighten up because you got your first playoff jitters out and were able to capture a victory. Now they understand what it is all about.”
Traveling to Salina to face a Liberty team that enters the game having won three straight games and six of their last seven will test the Bandits. They won a shootout in the only meeting between the two teams this season 60-58 as a late Bandit fumble ended their hopes for victory.
“It is a heck of a ballclub we are going down to Salina to play,” Strohbeen said. “You can tell with the game film and the things you hear in the press, it is like two trains colliding.”
Salina is led by quarterback Derrick Bernard who is fifth in the league in passing at 138 yards per game and is fourth in rushing at 47.3. Former Bandit Dominique Carson is second to Sioux City's Darrian Miller in total rushing yards by one yard, 749-748.
“(Bernard) is a special athlete and he is definitely one that we have to corral and keep in the pocket,” Strohbeen said. “We can’t have wide rush lanes and we have to collapse the pocket in on him and not let him squirt out the back like he can. He accounted for nine of their 11 touchdowns the other night.”
The Bandits controlled the game against Quad Cities on the ground with Miller rushing for 117 yards on 26 carries and five touchdowns.
"He is putting up huge numbers and it is an important part of our football game," Strohbeen said. "It leads to some big-play potential in the passing game. We put up 54 points and had three turnovers so we could have been on pace to hit our 70 for the fifth game in a row."
Defensively, the Bandits played solid last week but forced just one turnover, a number Strohbeen hopes increases this week. Barnes was a late scratch on the offensive line against the Steamwheelers and he may not be ready while running back Daryl Virgies is still dealing with a tender ankle.
“It will take a complete team effort,” Strohbeen said. “Offense will have to play a more complete game and the defense played well overall but we need a turnover or two. These are good football teams you are playing in the playoffs, and if one side of the football team is struggling I have full confidence the other will pick us up.”
He is taking a good football team to Salina, too.