In a season full of bad breaks, the Quad-City Steamwheelers finally got a fortunate bounce last weekend.
The Nebraska Danger suffered a 57-56, last-play loss at Sioux Falls late last Saturday, which allowed a Wheelers win the night before to tighten the race for the final three Indoor Football League playoff spots.
With three games remaining, the Wheelers (4-7) now trail Nebraska (5-6) by a game, and are two back of Tucson (6-5) and Green Bay (6-5). A victory this weekend gives Q-C a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Danger.
"There was a pass interference call, so Sioux Falls had another down and won the game with a touchdown," Q-C coach Cory Ross said ahead of Friday's visit to Nebraska. "It was a tough loss for Nebraska, but a good decision for us. It helped bring them back to us where we have a chance to jump past them this weekend."
The Wheelers know that leapfrogging the Danger will be easier said than done, though.
Former University of Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong helms the league's top rushing attack.
Armstrong leads the IFL in rushing yards (649 and 21 TDs on 108 carries) while Danger running back Davonte Sapp-Lynch ranks Top 5 (412 and 17 TDs on 81 carries).
Sapp-Lynch, the little brother of NFL star Marshawn Lynch, is sixth in scoring (116 points) compared to second for Armstrong (128).
"We've got our hands full with those two guys," Q-C quarterback E.J. Hilliard said. "We know how dynamic they are in the running game. But stopping the run is our defense's strong suit. It's going to be a great matchup."
The Wheelers limit foes to an IFL-best 61.3 rushing yards-per-game.
"We've done a good job, but we're going against a team that's the best in the league at this, so it's not like they're going to stop trying," Ross said. "They're going to keep coming at us. They're going to look to pop a couple of them.
"Our biggest worry is containing the quarterback. We want to put pressure on him, but we also know he's very slippery. So we have to be disciplined, and stay in our lanes and not get our edge rushers up field, too deep in the backfield, where we're giving him holes to step up and run through."
New addition: The Wheelers signed free-agent defensive back B.J. Kellogg on Wednesday.
To make roster room for the former Southwest Oklahoma State star, Q-C released emergency defensive line addition Maurice Harris. The Davenport Central grad was in his third tour of duty with the Wheelers, dating back a two-year stint with the original franchise in the mid-2000s.
Harris, a family man with a full-time job, started for Q-C last season and only agreed to return recently to help replace injured nose man Anthony Pruitt, who returned last week.
"A Canadian Football League team was talking about bringing Kellogg into training camp," Ross said. "But they wanted to see more game film.
"So they told me about him, and we liked what we saw of his game film. He's done a great job so far in practice. He will get an opportunity to play and contribute this weekend. He'll help us."
Honors: Q-C kicker Jacob Stytz earned the IFL's Special Teams Player of the Week award on Wednesday. The Augustana grad was perfect in a must-win game last Friday at home, hitting two field goals and six extra points in a 48-29 victory over Cedar Rapids.
"He had a great weekend," Ross said. "Of course, I'd rather score touchdowns, but I'm not going to complain when we get points and he does his job and we end up on top."
Stytz has converted 45 of 50 PATs this season, and 5 of 12 field goals, to rank fourth in kick-scoring with 60 points. He's the second Q-C player earning a weekly honor this season, with IFL scoring leader Quentin Pedroza cited twice so far as Offensive Player of the Week.