BETTENDORF — The month-long mantra still applies for the Quad City Steamwheelers.
"Just win out," quarterback E.J. Hilliard said, repeating a resolution first recited after a heartbreaking, final-play, May 11 loss to the defending champion Iowa Barnstormers in Des Moines.
Now, a month later, and thanks to a three-game winning streak, the postseason proposition really is that simple for the local Indoor Football League team.
By winning Saturday night at Tucson (6-7), in the final regular-season contest on a 17-week, 63-game IFL schedule, the 'Wheelers (6-7) not only earn one of six playoff berths, but claim the No. 5 seed.
"It feels good to be in this position," Hilliard said ahead of the showdown. "This feels much better than a few weeks ago, when we were 3-7 and our backs were most definitely against the wall."
However, Tucson is facing the exact same win-and-you're-in scenario.
Same for Nebraska (6-7), which plays earlier Saturday at Iowa (12-1), which last weekend locked up the No. 2 seed by beating Sioux Falls (10-3).
No. 1 Arizona (13-0) can secure homefield advantage in the playoffs with a Saturday win San Diego (1-12), one of two basement dwellers in the 10-team circuit.
"So this is like a championship," homegrown QC receiver Keyvan Rudd said, noting Iowa may have nothing at stake after halftime if Arizona is blowing out another overmatched foe. "This is a go big or go home game."
If the 'Wheelers lose, they can still back into the playoffs if Nebraska also falls. QC owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over Nebraska, gained with a thrilling goal-line defensive stand in overtime a few weeks ago.
But none of the 'Wheelers are thinking that way.
"We've come too far to do anything else but win," said Hilliard, whose club knocked off Tucson, 72-54 on April 20 at the TaxSlayer Center.
"There's no margin for error. But that attention to detail makes us play better. We're not lackadaisical about anything right now. This could be the last time some of us play football (competitively).
"Nobody's really beaten us this year, where we walked away knowing they were clearly better than us. All of our losses have been decided in the last minute. But pressure produces diamonds, and we've been in playoff mode for a long time, so we're used to fighting for what we want."
The plane! The plane! The 'Wheelers board a flight bound for Phoenix today, with hopes the early arrival allows the team to adjust to the drier and hotter surroundings, and recover from a nearly four-hour plane trip.
From the airport, transport vans will drive the team the remaining two hours south to Tucson.
"The big thing is to make sure we are hydrated and stay hydrated," Rudd said of the chief challenge facing athletes that fly to their destinations.
"We only have one victory on the road this season, and that was at (last-place) Cedar Rapids. Tucson is not a push over. They need to win to make sure they're in, too. So we need to bring our A-game."
To help ensure that, QC owner Doug Bland flew to Arizona a day early to set the stage for a seemless arrival by his team.
The trip also allowed Bland to tour the Arizona Rattlers' facilities and meet up with an old friend and former Ottawa High School teammate, Ron Moran, who played Arena Football for both the Barnstormers and Rattlers in the late 1990s.
Getting his kicks: QC kicker Jacob Stytz completed a five-month class last week and applied for his license to become an Emergency Medical Technician.
"It was a grind, especially during the season," said the Augustana grad, who had to attend class two hours away in Romeoville on the southern tip of Chicagoland.
"I was driving anywhere from 4-8 hours per week. So that got old pretty fast. There were times I was driving with the windows down (to stay awake). So I'm extremely happy that's over with."
Next for Stytz is finding employment with one of the local hospitals. Eventually, Stytz said, he needs 500 to 1,000 clinical hours of work to apply to school to become a Physician's Assistant.
Going once ...: The 'Wheelers auctioned off their red home jerseys after last weekend's regular-season home finale.
The auction raised $3,100 for the Riverbend Foodbank.
"I wish it was more," Bland said. "It's a really important cause."