Cedar Rapids Titans banking on Nick for playoff kick

Kicker Nick Belcher seeks extension of strong season as Cedar Rapids opens Indoor Football League playoffs Saturday at 7:05 p.m. against Wichita Falls at U.S. Cellular Center

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Playoff football in the Indoor Football League is more about putting points on the scoreboard than taking unnecessary risks.

If faced with fourth-down opportunities in the playoff opener at 7:05 p.m. Saturday against the Wichita Falls Nighthawks at the U.S. Cellular Center, expect the Cedar Rapids Titans to defer to the foot of kicker Nick Belcher.

“A fundamentally-strong team, early, takes points,” Cedar Rapids Coach Mark Stoute said. “If it comes down to the stretch maybe you take a chance late, but we’re going to go ahead and put points on the board. We don’t want to have any drives where we’re coming up with zero offensively and Nick has done a great job of stepping up and taking care of that aspect for us.”

Cedar Rapids (12-4) closed the regular season with wins in 11 of 13 games and edged Wichita Falls (11-5) in the standings to earn the franchise’s first home playoff game.

Belcher, 25, has adjusted well to the league’s nine-foot goal posts, which is less than half the width of regulation NCAA and NFL posts. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound kicker booted an IFL-record 29 field goals this season, was named league special teams player of the week four times and enters Saturday’s playoff game having converted seven of his last eight attempts.

“The nine-foot post is all a mental thing right now,” Belcher said. “You just try to pick out a target and hit your target.”

A big facet of hitting the target for Belcher has been shortening his kicking stroke from three steps to two. Inspired by the technique of Brandon McManus of the NFL Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, Belcher has successfully managed to thwart oncoming rushers without sacrificing distance.

“Basically, one’s a push, the other one’s a kick,” Belcher said of the two-step method. “Surprisingly, it hasn’t affected (distance) at all. It’s all about keeping that same stroke. It’s common sense kicker-wise to just shorten it up and trust your swing.”

The South Carolina-native seemed destined for a collegiate baseball career until elbow trouble forced him to change course. Belcher transferred from JUCO-level Florence Darlington Technical College and kicked for two years at South Carolina State.

His professional development was delayed a year due to a torn hip labrum and hip flexor, but Belcher returned to action last year and was invited to training camp by a trio of Canadian Football League teams.

Saturday, Belcher hopes to extend Cedar Rapids’ win streak to eight games and earn a trip to Sioux Falls for a fourth-consecutive United Conference championship game berth.

“It’s an experience you want to be a part of,” Belcher said.

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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