After a 1-3 start to the season, the Sioux City Bandits have climbed their way back into the CIF playoff race in the Northern Division. After losing to Salina on April 27, the Bandits haven't lost and bring a three-game winning streak to Saturday's game at Salina.
The three-game winning streak puts the Bandits right in line with Salina as both teams sit in the No. 2 spot in the Northern Division with a 4-3 record. The Liberty lost to Amarillo two weeks ago and had an off week last week.
Omaha leads the Northern Division with a 6-1 record, so the loser of Saturday's game doesn't just put that team a game out of the playoff race, but basically eliminates them from the No. 1 spot in the Northern Division.
"My mention to the guys is if you win out, you are in the playoffs because Salina will have four losses at least. We win out, we are in," Bandits coach Erv Strohbeen said. "The way the guys are playing now, it's a possibility but we still have to come to play. This game has huge implications to it.
"Traditionally, we've had great games against them since they entered the league in 2013. They've had one down year and they corrected it. It's a dog fight when you play them and we are hoping to come out on top."
Salina is 2-0 against the Bandits so far this season. The Bandits lost their season-opener at Salina 65-45 and then lost 51-49 at the Tyson Events Center on a last-second safety.
Strohbeen feels the team let one slip away against Salina the last time and the first time, the Bandits were playing a good amount of rookies.
"We are playing a lot better than when we went to Saline the first week," Strohbeen said. "These guys aren't rookies anymore and guys are buying in and it's fun right now."
The Bandits have had their fair share of trouble on the road. They are 1-2 on the road and the one win, against Oklahoma two weeks ago, the Bandits turned the ball over six times. In last week's 79-71 win over Amarillo, the Bandits didn't turn the ball over a single time and forced six turnovers.
Strohbeen said the team has turned the ball over at a much worse rate on the road.
"We have to secure the football. We didn't have a turnover last week and scored almost every possession," Strohbeen said. "That's what we strive for. Put it in the end zone, scoring every time and not turning it over goes a long way."
Saturday's game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. A watch party will be held at Clydes in the lounge or can be seen on Pluto.tv.
The Bandits to have to find some new punch in their running game. Offensive lineman Trevor Wietzema could miss the rest of the season along with running back Daryl Virgies, who has 12 touchdowns this season. Running back Todd Macon will miss the game with an injury.
To fill the running back spot, the Bandits signed former Morningside running back Bubba Jenkins to the roster and he will join Braden Meints in the backfield, who scored three touchdowns last week. Frederick Bruno, normally a receiver, also played running back last week and scored three touchdowns but with Jenkins signed, Bruno could move back to receiver.
Quarterback Dillon Turner is fourth in the league with nine touchdowns and he's hit Londell Lee for six touchdowns over the past couple of weeks.
"It's the next man in," Strohbeen said. "We've tried to replace those guys as best as we could and the guys are ready to go."
Bandits defensive lineman leads the league with 9.5 sacks and Devon Bridges has 3.5 sacks. Zac Schleuger leads the league with 8.6 tackles per game.