The Sioux City Bandits kept their season-long win streak alive with a 57-44 victory over the visiting Billings Outlaws on Saturday night at Tyson Events Center, as the home team's passing attack continued its run of dominant performances.
The Bandits, who have now completed the first half of their home schedule, improved to 3-0 on the season.
For the Bandits, Saturday's win was their biggest test yet. In the opener back on March 12, the Bandits walloped the expansion Topeka Tropics, 51-18, and then beat Sioux Empire last week, 67-0.
Against Billings, the Bandits finally had a challenge on their hands.
"It was a good test to see where our team really stacks up," Sioux City quarterback Lorenzo Brown said. "I feel that Billings was going to be a top team in the league, and a good test early. It's kind of hard to gauge where we're at, going against an expansion team and then a semi-pro team. I think the guys responded well."
Billings held Sioux City to just 66 rushing yards on the night, and the Bandits responded by letting Brown take to the sky.
Brown continued his strong start to the year with 155 passing yards on 12 completions, with four touchdowns.
Brown, who came to the Bandits this offseason after a highly successful career with the Sioux Falls Storm, now has a league-high 12 touchdown passes on the season.
"We have a very diverse offense," Bandits coach Erv Strohbeen said. "We have the ability to really sit back and game-plan, and take what the defense is willing to give up. We've got great athletes at every position, so if they're stacking the box and taking away our run game, we're going to chuck it around the yard. I think that's what you saw tonight."
The Bandits scored first on a five yard rushing touchdown from Fred Bruno at 11:49 in the first, but the Outlaws tied it at 7-7 with a 18 yard touchdown pass from Charles McCullum to receiver Jerron McGraw.
Sioux City went ahead again at 13:09 in the second on a 14 yard touchdown pass from Brown to receiver Brandon Sheperd, but kicker Greg Conry couldn't convert the point after touchdown (PAT) try. Billings tied it again at 13-13 on a 14 yard touchdown pass from McCullum to Tyron Laughinghouse at 9:12 in the second, followed by a failed PAT from Billings kicker Luke Daly.
With 6:38 to go in the half, Brown put the Bandits up by six points with a rushing touchdown, followed by a second missed PAT from Conry. Billings tied the game again on a touchdown pass from McCullum to to Nate Simkins, and took a 20-19 lead when Daly nailed the extra point.
But the Bandits managed to take the lead back just before halftime, when Brown found Sheperd again, this time for a 34-yard touchdown pass and a five-point Sioux City lead. Conry converted the PAT, and Sioux City went into the half with a 26-20 lead.
Conry made it a nine-point lead for Sioux City with a 27 yard field goal at the 7:32 mark of the third. Later in the quarter, Brown threw a 21 yard scoring pass to Damond Powell, Brown's third touchdown pass of the night.
His fourth came with 12:12 seconds to go in the game, when Brown found Bruno for a 21 yard score.
The Outlaws managed to pull within five, at 49-44, with 1:00 left in the game on a McCullum and Laughinghouse linked up for their third touchdown of the night. But the Bandits blocked Billings' PAT, Kamal Cass ran it back for a touchdown, and Brown found Bruno again for a two-point conversion.
After that, the Bandits let the clock tick down to zero before celebrating another home win.
While it counts in the victory column, the Bandits' latest triumph didn't come easy. Billings outgained Sioux City in total yards, 282-216, but the Bandits' offense came through when it mattered most.
"I think we had a good game-plan on offense, especially after seeing how they were playing us as that first quarter went on," Brown said. "I think there is still a lot of room for improvement on both sides of the ball, but it is a really good step forward to be where we want to be at."
On defense, Carlton Watkins and Zac Schleuger finished with a team-high nine tackles apiece for Sioux City, while Dajon Emery had three total tackles and a sack.
The Bandits have just three home games left in the season, and will play four of their next five games on the road. With that knowledge, it was absolutely crucial to Strohbeen that the Bandits get off to a 3-0 start.
"I told the guys beforehand, this is a must-win game," Strohbeen said. "We can't drop one at home, we're going on the road six of the next nine. We've got a lot of long road trips coming up, so we've got to stay focused. It's nice to see a great opponent and have a great game, especially for the fans."
Sioux City will play its next two games on the road at Rapid City and Salina, before returning home April 30 to face Omaha.