Quad City Steamwheelers quarterback E.J. Hilliard (12) soars past the Tucson Sugar Skulls defense last month for a touchdown at the TaxSlayer Center in Moline. Hilliard and his club hope to leapfrog at least one of two clubs directly in front of the Steamwheelers in the playoff race. Q-C also visits both of them, Tucson and Nebraska, in the regular season's final month.

The Quad-City Steamwheelers boast the Indoor Football League's most prolific offense.

Quarterback E.J. Hilliard leads the league in passing. Receiver Quinton Pedroza is the circuit's scoring leader. Defensive back Danzel McDaniel tops the IFL in tackles.

Yet, despite all of that, and numerous other highlights, the Steamwheelers head into the final month of the regular season also leading the way in a rather dubious unofficial statistic — heartbreaking decisions.

The Steamwheelers (3-7) own four losses by a touchdown or less, three of them by three points, while contending into the final minute of each setback.

A third straight loss last weekend, coming on a final-play fumble recovery in the end zone by the Iowa Barnstormers, has Q-C facing a rather difficult postseason predicament.

"It's win-or-go-home now," Hilliard said simply. "So we're in playoff-mode early."

Starting with Friday night's home rematch with Cedar Rapids (1-9), the Steamwheelers have four games remaining to make up a two-game deficit in the race for one of the last two playoff spots.

Tucson, Q-C's only victim since a 22-point win March 15 at Cedar Rapids, is just ahead of the Steamwheelers heelers, tied at 5-5 with Nebraska.

The Steamwheelers own the head-to-head tiebreaker with Tucson, thanks to a 72-54 romp on April 20 at the TaxSlayer Center.

Nebraska also owns a tiebreaker on the Sugar Skulls, based on a six-point victory over Tucson on April 6.

"If we want to be in the playoffs, and we know we should be there, the playoffs start Friday for us," said Q-C linebacker La'Kel Bass, who forced the fated goal-line fumble last Saturday.

"We have to win our final four games. There's no more room for error."

Finishing 7-7 could land the Steamwheelers as high as the No. 4 seed in the IFL's six-team postseason. Green Bay (6-4), which contributed a pair of last-second losses to the Steamwheelers woes, currently inhabits that spot.

Arizona (9-0), defending champ Iowa (9-1) and Sioux Falls (8-2) are all mathematically out of Q-C's reach, with the top two finishers receiving a first-round playoff bye.

With the head-to-head tiebreaker over Q-C, Green Bay is unlikely to get passed by the Steamwheelers. The Blizzard host Iowa on Sunday, but finish at Bismarck (2-7) and with a home-and-away back-to-back with Cedar Rapids.

However, in the No. 5 and 6 seeds currently, Nebraska (21-19) and Tucson (23-14) both have a tougher closing strength-of-schedule than Q-C (13-26).

Tucson's finishing kick includes Saturday's trip to Bismarck before a back-to-back, home-and-away with Arizona.

Nebraska does visit league-worst San Diego (1-9) on June 7, in addition to trips to Sioux Falls (Saturday) and Iowa (June 15).

Essential to any Q-C hopes are road trips to Nebraska (May 24) and Tucson (June 15). The Steamwheelers also host Bismarck on June 7 after their final bye weekend.

"We have to make the most of those games," Hilliard said of those visits to their fellow playoff contenders. "Knock them both down and see where that gets us."

"We're not in complete control of our own fate," Bass added. "But if we beat those two, we should put ourselves in the playoffs."

Despite losing six of their last seven games, in seemingly ever-increasingly heart-smashing ways, the Steamwheelers are confident they can win more games in the final month than they have to this point in the season.

"We have a rough road now," coach Cory Ross said. "But guys understand our backs are against the wall, and if anything, these guys are fighters."

"We just need to have a break go our way," Bass agreed. "But I believe we're going to make it happen. We have a heck of a team."

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