January 29, 2023

Law ride into season finale with postseason aspirations

Dodge City, KS (westernkansasnews.com)-In two years, the Dodge City Law has played in 24 games, which includes one postseason contest. But none of those carry the weight that Saturday’s showdown with first-place Sioux City does. 

“It’s almost a dream scenario,” Law Head Coach Sean Ponder said. “It’s win or go home.”

The scenario: a Dodge City win and they clinch the No. 2 seed in next week’s Champions Indoor Football League playoffs; a loss coupled with an Amarillo victory over San Angelo officially eliminates them. Of course they could get in via the backdoor (a loss plus an Amarillo loss would make them the No. 4 seed and earn them a trip to Sioux City).

Meantime Sioux City has already clinched a playoff spot and can secure the league’s top seed and home field advantage throughout the postseason with a win. 

“It’s such an exciting feeling knowing you have a chance to end someone’s season,” Bandits Head Coach Erv Strohbeen said. “We don’t want to come back to Dodge City.”

Consider that last line a warning to his team. If Dodge City wins, the Bandits would have to make the nine-hour trek back to Southwest Kansas six days later. It’s not the ideal scenario for a franchise coming off it’s fourth appearance in a league championship game. 

“I love Ricky (Bertz), and I’m good friends with Coach Ponder,” Strohbeen said. “But this is one we really need to get.”

Strohbeen and his staff don’t have fond memories of United Wireless Arena. During their week-two clash with the Law, the Dodge City ground attack Blitzed the Bandits for 140 yards on the ground and built a 37-18 lead midway through the third quarter. 

“We made a lot of big plays in that game,” Ponder said. “And our defense came up big in spots.”

None bigger than a second-and-goal at the Law 9 early in the first quarter when Mark Sterling intercepted Charles Dowdell in the end zone to thwart an early Bandits scoring chance. It was one of two Sioux City turnovers. 

“They’re not the same team that they were then,” Ponder said.

That’s as clear as day. 

The Bandits have reeled off a season-best six straight wins, and during that stretch, they’ve hung 79 points twice including last week’s blowout victory over playoff-hungry Amarillo. 

The biggest difference from week two to now?

“We are much more disciplined,” Strohbeen said. “We had 16 penalties in that first matchup with Dodge City. Plus we turned the ball over. We’ve cleaned up the penalties, and we’re efficient in what we do.”

Sioux City has turned the ball over just once in the last 12 quarters. Compare that to Dodge City’s 16 giveaways in the past six games coupled with three losses in their last four contests and Vegas would probably install the Bandits as at least a touchdown favorite. 

“We feel like we are getting our groove back,” Ponder said on Tuesday. “Now it’s just a question of want to. I love these types of games. There’s really no pressure on me or our players. They know what has to be done.”

For what it’s worth, their week two victory over the Bandits showed how potent Dodge City can be when firing on all cylinders. But during the last month, those cylinders have been misfiring; Ponder is hoping his team’s second bye in the past three weeks will serve as a tuneup. 

“We’ve got the guys we want here to get it done,” Ponder added. “We’re not making any excuses.”

One big bright spot for Dodge City is the much-anticipated return of wide receiver Maurice Young, who missed the last three games after tearing up his thumb on the final play of the Amarillo game. 

“I feel really good,” Young said. “I can catch the ball; I’ve been doing that since I was a little kid. I will do what I can. I know Josh throws the ball really hard.”

But mixed in with the good is the bad. Offensive lineman Odie Rush was lost for the season after injuring his knee in the first quarter of Dodge City’s 64-39 victory over Omaha. Sprinkle in Javon Ross leaving the team for a tryout with the Arena Football League’s Las Vegas Outlaws, and Ponder’s cupboard is pretty bare on the lines. 

“We have to make the adjustments,” Ponder explained. “Next man up.”

In this case it’s Jamar Seard, who has had a brilliant season on the defensive side of the ball. The Missouri native will move to one of the guard spots on the offensive line, putting the onus on the likes of Monte Lewis, Marquis George and Louvan Green to try and put pressure on Dowdell, who hasn’t thrown an interception in nearly four games.

But in the end, this game could be decided by special teams. Sioux City brings in the league’s No. 1 returner in Frederick Bruno, who added his CIF-leading fifth kickoff return for touchdown last week vs. Amarillo. 

On the other side, Dominique Carson is fifth in the league in return average. But his electrifying play making ability makes him the biggest threat in the league, and a sure fit to be carrying around the MVP trophy come seasons end.

“If the season ended today, I believe he’s the MVP,” Ponder said. “Look at his numbers. He gets only 65 percent of the carries and is still leading the league in rushing. Plus what he adds on special teams. What does that say?”

Series History

-Dodge City won the only meeting between the two teams; 51-39 back on March 15. 

Broadcasting info

6:30 p.m. pregame; 7:05 p.m. kick on 98.1 FM; westernkansasnews.com; mobile app: KSKZ and tuneinradio: KSKZ (Mike Pilosof, Ross Miller and Tim Boulware)