The Wild still has half a season to play, but it might not find any regular-season games as important or as telling as Saturday night’s tilt with Omaha at Hartman Arena.
The Beef is 4-0, with wins over Kansas City — the team that handed the 5-1 Wild its only loss — and Sioux City, which ended the Bandits’ 31-game winning streak.
Still, there is little separating Omaha in Wichita in most statistical categories, so Saturday’s game could have more impact on the CPIFL final standings than any of the Wild’s final five.
"Whoever wins this game is controlling pretty much their own destiny in the league," Wild coach Morris Lolar said. "They’ll be the team to beat. (Omaha) has a couple of very good wins."
Omaha and Wichita are each in the top three in the CPIFL in scoring offense, and the teams occupy the top two spots in total defense. The reason for the offensive production is that both teams have quarterbacks who can lead quick scoring drives.
If Wichita’s first-year quarterback Rocky Hinds isn’t the league’s best quarterback, Omaha’s James McNear is. Hinds has nine more combined touchdowns that McNear (in one more game), but McNear leads in total offense.
Both quarterbacks are adept as passers and as runners, so while Lolar would prefer a low-scoring affair that allows Wichita’s playmaking defense to flourish, such a game is unlikely.
"I’m a defensive coach, so I want our offense to score a lot and them not to score as much," Lolar said. "I really don’t like to see a shootout, but it’s the indoor game so it’s a lot of scoring and a lot of explosive plays. It’s exciting for the fans, but as for me, I’d rather see a 10-7 ballgame."
Wichita can try to exploit two advantages against the undefeated Beef — a superior running game and a dominant defensive line.
Though McNear gives the Beef a competent running attack, Wichita’s rushing yards are mostly produced in more traditional fashion. Tywon Hubbard, who leads the league in all-purpose yardage, also has a commanding lead in rushing yards with 352 despite missing a game.
If the game is low-scoring, it’s probably because Hubbard is helping the Wild dictate time of possession with chain-moving carries.
"If we can get our running game going early, we can control the clock that way and keep them off the field, which would of course keep them from scoring," Lolar said. "It would be huge if we could get Tywon rolling. To me, he’s the best running back in the league and probably one of the best in the indoor football game."
The Wild’s other advantage might be more difficult to carry out. With 26 sacks, Wichita has 16 more than the next-highest team. The unit is carried by defensive ends James McCartney and Matt Moss, who have combined for 19.5 sacks.
But Omaha, with an elusive quarterback, allows the fewest sacks in the league. If Wichita can chase down McNear, its chances for handing the Beef its first loss likely improve. Wichita is without lineman Callahan Bright, who is lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon.
"We have some guys that can get after it and probably run him down," Lolar said. "We’ll miss Callahan Bright a little bit, who really gave us a good push up the middle which narrowed some of the running lanes."