SIOUX CITY | Zac Schleuger was all over the place on defense for the Sioux City Bandits on Saturday night.
Schleuger had five of his game-high 16 tackles by halftime along with the first of his five quarterback sacks and a batted pass. A former Morningside College linebacker, Schleuger’s bat of a Dorian Ballantine fourth-down pass in the second quarter led to a touchdown just before halftime during the Bandits’ 35-18 exhibition win over the Sioux City Stampede in front of 2,271 fans at the Tyson Events Center.
A linebacker, Schleuger registered more quarterback sacks in this game than he did all of last season for an 11-4 squad that fell to Duke City in the Champions Indoor Football title game. Fourth on last year’s squad with 75 tackles, Schleuger also recorded a third-quarter safety and was part of a unit which limited last year’s Northern Elite Football League champion Stampede to 140 yards total offense.
“I don’t know if a lot of this was planned,” said Schleuger. “We had a short week of practice before this game, so it nice to get out and run around and chase a different color other than our own. This is my third year now, so things are slowing down and I’m able to read. I’m able to get off the ball and on a snap, get to the quarterback without taking a false step.”
“He’s a third-year player and that’s kind of a breakout year,” said Bandits Coach Erv Strohbeen. “He’s been a great player for us in the past and we’re really looking for big things from him. He was all over the place making his keys and his reads and was definitely the key of that defense tonight.”
Five plays after Schleuger’s batted pass, quarterback Cory Murphy (61 yards passing, 1 TD) fired a 14-yard touchdown pass to Frederick Bruno, a Bandit veteran from Wayne State who has played for three championship teams – the American Professional Football League title teams of 2011 and 2012 and the CIF titleists of 2014.
The Stampede, a tradition-rich team that went 10-1 last year and also won the 2017 Midwest Football Alliance championship, had gone on a 10-0 run in the first three minutes of the third quarter while rallying from a 19-8 halftime deficit.
The spurt began as Ballantine threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Solie and an ensuing two-point conversion pass to Tyler Brodie. Coach Jason Garnand’s Stampede, which possessed the NEFL’s top-ranked defense a year ago, made things interesting on the Bandits’ following possession as Chris Williams sacked quarterback Antwan Washington in the end zone for a safety to trim the deficit to 19-18.
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Following the safety, Ballantine, who passed for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, directed a 12-play drive that went as far as the Bandits’ 1-yard line. However, one play after former Morningside gridder Devin Groenhagen sacked Ballantine for a five-yard loss, Schleuger sacked Ballantine on fourth down.
The Bandits scored about 20 seconds after Schleuger’s sack when quarterback Antuan Washington fired a 40-yard touchdown pass to Dorian Cowart for a 25-18 lead.
Defensively, the Bandits received two interceptions from defensive back Oscar Opera. Coming through with one sack apiece were Kenneth Maxwell, Devon Bridges and Keontae Chavies.
Williams recorded two sacks for the Stampede. Interceptions came from both Tyrae Kemp and former Sioux City West gridder Dex Gordon. Jordon Smith recovered a fumble.
“All of this is a learning experience,” said Strohbeen, whose team will open the CIF season this Saturday in Salina, Kan., against the Salina Liberty.
“We played a lot of guys. We had the full amount of guys we could have, which is 35. We let them all play. We’re making cuts (Sunday). We have a lot of film to evaluate on these guys. We hope to make the right decisions and keep the right guys.”
The Stampede will open with a May 4 game at Memorial Field against the Midwest Titans.
“This is all about the Bandits and giving the Bandits a real good look,” said Garnand. “The Bandits have got to look forward to 2019. They have great talent. They’re going to have a great year.”