SIOUX CITY, Iowa — A fast start was spoiled Saturday night by a disappointing finish for the Quad-City Steamwheelers.
The local Champions Indoor Football squad saw their season ended by the Sioux City Bandits, 54-46 in a playoff opener at the Tyson Events Center.
The Wheelers (8-5) were unable to sustain a start that included a game-opening interception by Joe Powell, and ensuing rushing touchdown by E.J. Hilliard.
The Bandits (10-3) broke open a back-and-forth contest that featured seven ties and four lead changes with four straight touchdown drives in the fourth quarter.
Q-C could only counter with a Jacob Stytz field goal and a pair of late TD receptions by Keyvan Rudd in the final period.
Sioux City's defense forced a missed field goal after the first of those Bandits' TDs, an Andre London reception, allowed the hosts to retake the lead at 33-31.
After Darrian Miller's fourth rushing score on the ensuring possession for a 39-31 edge, Sioux City's defense recovered a Q-C fumble on a fourth-and-2 situation and London followed with a rushing TD on a goal-line reverse to all but end Q-C's hopes.
Rudd caught a pair TD passes in the final minute, but Miller's fifth rushing score was sandwiched in between by CIF's highest-scoring offense.
Sioux City visits regular-season conference champ Salina (10-3) in the North Conference title game next weekend. Salina romped past Bismarck (5-8) in a playoff opener Saturday, 81-51.
The decision settled the season series between the two cross-state rivals, with each winning a home game during the regular season.
For the Wheelers, the defeat also marked more postseason heartbreak for a franchise which made its CIF debut this season, after sitting idle following arenafootball2's demise in 2009.
Q-C is now 0-3 on the road in the playoffs, with that mark part of six straight postseason setbacks.
The Wheelers last won a playoff game in 2001 to cap a 37-1, twin-title run in the long-defunct circuit, arenafootball2.
Besides the 5 TDs, Miller finished with 117 yards on 26 rushes against the CIF's second-best rushing defense.
Conversely, Q-C's E.J. Hilliard, CIF's top-rated quarterback, hit 14-of-27 passes for 180 yards and 4 TDs against one of the league's best passing defenses.
Along with Powell's game-opening pick, the 'Wheelers also recovered a pair of fumbles, including Powell's 41-yard scoop-and-score in the third quarter for a 31-26 lead.
Q-C's Anthony Pruitt also fell on a loose ball on the goal-line in the first half.
The Wheelers only had the one turnover, but also suffered a safety besides misfiring on the two key fourth-quarter possessions.
Hilliard threw for two scores and ran for another in the first half, which ended in a 24-all tie.
Miller countered with three rushing TDs before intermission for Sioux City.
Both teams also traded field goals in a first half featuring three ties and four lead changes.