It's been an up and down season for the Sioux City Bandits.
They started the season with a 1-3 record and two of the losses were by a combined three points. Then the Bandits went on a three-game winning streak to get back in the playoff picture.
A loss to Salina, which was the third time the Liberty defeated Sioux City, meant the Bandits still had an uphill battle for a playoff spot.
But the Bandits bounced back, winning their next three games, tying Sioux City with Omaha for the final spot in the playoffs.
Coincidentally, the Bandits finish the regular season at Omaha on Saturday at Ralston Arena at 7:05 p.m. Both teams are 7-4 on the season. The winner makes the playoffs. The loser has their season end.
"It's how you want the season to go. Big rivalry game with everything on the line," Bandits coach Erv Strohbeen said. "One of us is going to finish the season and one of us is going to be happy with the outcome. What more could the league want."
Omaha has the home-field advantage for the game but Strohbeen is hoping some Sioux City fans can neutralize that.
"Fans, get down to Omaha. It's going to be a crazy atmosphere," Strohbeen said. "With this much on the line, I can't help but think the crowd will play a role and we would love to have as many Sioux City fans as possible down there."
There will also be a watch party at Clyde's Grill & Pub. The game can be seen on Pluto TV.
A win puts the Bandits back in familiar territory - the playoffs. Sioux City has been a mainstay in the playoffs. The last time the Bandits missed the playoffs was back in 2010.
"It's kind of a given coming into camp, get to the championship and win a championship or bust," Strohbeen said. "Maybe that's arrogance but I think it's holding the team to the excellence and the tradition we've built. That's why guys keep coming back. Our goals haven't changed and neither have theirs."
Omaha was leading the Northern Division for much of the season, until last week. The Beef started the season with a 7-1 record. The lone loss was at Sioux City.
But the last three weeks haven't been kind to Omaha. The Beef's six-game winning streak was snapped with a 20-point loss to Salina. The next week, Amarillo defeated Omaha by three points. Then last week, the Beef fell out of first place after a 17-point loss to Salina, which moved into the top spot in the division.
Not only is Omaha on a three-game losing streak, the Beef have scored the third fewest points in the league. Antonio Bray has rushed for the second-most yards per game at 46.9 and he is third with 14 rushing touchdowns.
Strohbeen expects to see the Omaha team that was on the six-game winning streak earlier this season.
"You can throw whatever records out the window," Strohbeen said. "It's going to be a dogfight and whoever can eliminate the mistakes and play a full four quarters of football will win."
The Bandits are going in the opposite direction as the Beef after winning their last three games. The Bandits beat Wichita by 22 points and then had a 61-14 exhibition victory over the NTX Savages. Then Sioux City beat Oklahoma by a point last week.
Quarterback Dillon Turner is fifth in the league with 121.3 passing yards per game and 24 touchdowns. He's also third in the league with 39.3 rushing yards per game and second with 15 rushing touchdowns. Ben Pister leads the league with 10 sacks and Devon Bridges is fourth with 6.5 sacks.
Sioux City hasn't turned the ball over one time in the past two weeks and the Bandits are playing its best football of the season. But Strohbeen still feels this team can still play better yet.
"I challenged the guys that we still haven't put together a full four quarters and I want to see it on Saturday," Strohbeen said. "It's going to take a full four quarters to beat (Omaha). Do I think we are playing our best? Probably but is it where we need to be yet? Not yet. The sky is the limit if the team plays a full four quarters and doesn't make mistakes.
"We are going against a good football team so the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will win the game."