SIOUX CITY – Sioux City's offense was a bit sloppier and less efficient than the last few weeks, but the Bandits gutted out a 54-46 win over the Quad Cities Steamwheelers in the opening round of the CIF playoffs at the Tyson Events Center here Saturday.
The Bandits (10-3) had scored at least 70 points in the previous four games, but things did not come as easy in the playoffs against Quad Cities (8-5).
“We turned the ball over three times,” said Bandits Coach Erv Strohbeen. "We had a ton of penalties and mistakes. You’re not supposed to win those ball games. I think that’s the resiliency of this team and the special athletes that we have. They’re able to overcome some of that stuff and get after it. I was super proud of them.
"Obviously we want to eliminate those dumb mistakes, but overall I’m proud of them for overcoming the mistakes and being able to get the victory.”
After getting a safety on the opening drive of the second half, Sioux City led 26-24 and had the ball at the Quad Cities’ 3-yard line. But the Bandits fumbled and Joe Powell returned the ball 41 yards for a score, giving Quad Cities a 31-26 lead with 7:24 left in the third quarter.
"At that point, I thought ‘Man, we’re not supposed to win this ball game,’” said Strohbeen. “Again, I’m super proud of these guys for being able to overcome that. That’s a special game when you can do that.”
Both teams missed long field goals on the next two drives. Then Liam Nadler threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Andre London to give the Bandits a 33-31 lead with 14:01 left in the game.
On the ensuing drive, Quad Cities faced fourth-and-2 from its own 13-yard line. Running back Darrius Hicks fumbled and Ben Pister recovered the ball to give the Bandits a short field on offense. Two plays later, Darrian Miller scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Bandits a 39-31 lead.
Miller finished with 26 carries for 117 yards and five touchdowns for Sioux City. He also caught a 20-yard pass on a wheel route that eventually set up one of his rushing touchdowns.
“Just a monster night,” said Strohbeen of Miller. “(Daryl) Virgies was a little banged up but got in there and did some blocking on our wishbone package. We just relied on Darrian and the offensive line.”
The Bandits finished with 131 rushing yards on the night.
“Those guys up front played well,” said Strohbeen of his offensive line. “Arthur Doakes, Matt Rahn and Max Stewart stepping in for Darius Barnes. Barnes had an injury at the last minute. At 6 o’clock I made a roster change because Barnes wasn’t able to go and Max Stewart had a huge night. I’m super proud of him and super proud of the whole offensive line.”
London scored on a reverse to give the Bandits a two-score lead at 46-34 with 3:51 left in the game. The Bandits scored touchdowns on four of their final five drives, every drive but the final one when they ran out the clock.
Defensively, Sioux City held the Steamwheelers to 238 yards of total offense. Quad Cities ran for 58 yards on 22 attempts (2.6 yards per carry) and completed just 14 of 27 passes. The Bandits had two sacks and five tackles for loss.
“You can’t speak enough about those four defensive linemen,” said Strohbeen. “Ben Pister just got after it those last two drives. Westly Johnson had another great night. He had one and a half sacks and two and a half tackles for loss. They can’t block him. Everybody looks at him like he’s this skinny guy and not your typical defensive lineman, but he’s so fast that nobody can block him.”
Nadler completed 6 of 12 passes for 88 yards with one touchdown and one interception for the Bandits. Frederick Bruno caught a 21-yard pass and added 20 yards rushing on four carries.
E.J. Hilliard threw for 180 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions for Quad Cities, which entered the game having won five of its last six games.
Now the Bandits look south to the Salina Liberty who defeated the Bismarck Bucks 81-51 in the other playoff game in the North division. In their only game this season, Salina defeated the Bandits 60-58 in Sioux City. The Bandits had the ball with a chance to win in the final minute, but turned the ball over on a fumble.
“Our goal is in sight,” said Strohbeen. “This is what we wanted. I talked to the guys and said you get a little chance at redemption. Now we get a chance to go down and maybe return the favor to Salina. We felt we should have won that game. It’s going to be a tough ball game going down there and steal one away from Salina, but I hope we can do it.”