SIOUX CITY — Everything worked on Saturday night for the Sioux City Bandits.
Offense, defense, newcomers, and old vets, everybody had a hand in a dominant 38-6 season-opening win over Wichita. In front of a loud and enthusiastic home crowd, Sioux City made its mark in all facets of the game.
The Bandits came out hot in the first half on offense. Three minutes and 42 seconds into the game, veteran wide receiver Fred Bruno took the ball on a handoff and ran it four yards, for the Bandits’ first touchdown of the season.
Nine minutes later, Bruno scored again, this time through the air, as rookie quarterback Daniel Smith hit Bruno on a 24-yard pass for the score. With that touchdown, Sioux City took a 13-0 lead.
Sioux City made it 19-0 on a three yard score by running back Jeff Mack at the 13:10 mark of the second quarter, and took a 25-0 lead when Bruno scored his third touchdown of the day on a run from the two yard line.
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When Mack ran the ball in from the one with 36 seconds left in the first half to give the Bandits a 32-0 lead, the game seemed pretty much in hand for Sioux City.
The ensuing defensive series only supported that feeling, as defensive linemen Claude Davis and Ben Pister sacked Wichita quarterback Cory Murphy on back to back plays to stymie the Force’s offensive drive, and go into halftime with the 32-point lead.
While the offense looked good, defense is where the Bandits truly shined. Sioux City finished the night with five sacks and 10 tackles for loss, with Pister leading the line with 2.5 sacks and six total tackles. Davis, a former member of the New York Jets franchise, contributed one sack and seven total tackles to the effort, while Xavier Spann pulled in a pair of interceptions.
Davis signed with Sioux City last season after five years with Sioux Falls, and said that he is excited about the Bandits’ defensive line after the team's opening night showing. If the first game in any indication, opposing offenses could be in for a long year.
“I just feel like we have a complete defense now, and a complete defensive line,” Davis said. “I love playing with Pister, (Randall) Blash, and (Devon) Bridges. That rotation is going to be crazy for the league.”
In the third quarter, Bruno added another touchdown to his total at the 7:50 mark, running the ball in from the nine yard line to give the Bandits a 38-0 lead. It was the only score of the second half for the Bandits.
Bruno finished the night with four total touchdowns and 70 all-purpose yards. The veteran wide receiver is in his 10th season with the Bandits, and after the team missed out on a season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bruno and his teammates were thrilled about the opportunity to take the field again.
“It’s great,” Bruno said after the game. “Last year, one game and then cancelled, it was very unfortunate. But everybody is excited to get back, everybody’s body is great, and we are just ready to get after it.”
With 5:41 remaining in the game, Wichita finally got on the board, as Force running back Dishawn Ray got into the endzone from the one yard line. The Force failed to convert the two-point play, and the 38-6 score held up until the end of the game.
On offense, the Bandits outgained the Force 216 yards to 76. The Bandits went 6-for-8 on third down plays, while the defense held Wichita to 1-of-11 on third down.
The Bandits averaged 4.6 yards per play on offense, while Wichita managed just 1.7.
In his first game under center, Smith went 13-of-19 passing for 144 yards, with one passing touchdown.
“I really like his pocket presence,” head coach Erv Strohbeen said. “They were doing some things up front, trying to stunt the d-lineman a little bit and move the pocket around. I really felt he stepped up well and delivered the ball. 13-of-19 is a great night.”
Zac Ely led the wide receivers with five receptions for 5t6 yards, while Bruno finished with four catches for 50 yards.
Strohbeen would like to see some improvements from the offense in the next week, as the team's performance in the second half didn't quite match up with the first two quarters. But still, a 32-point victory is hard to be mad about.
"We had a nice running game going and a good passing game going," Strohbeen said. "We were clicking. I just want to see us finish."
But when Strohbeen talked about the defense, a smile lit up his face.
"The defense, wow," Strohbeen said. "How do you say anything bad? ... I haven't seen our defense play like that ever. Very impressed with them."
With the victory, the Bandits kick off their season with a 1-0 record. They will play next Saturday at Omaha.