Mistakes cost Titans in shootout

Special team breakdowns doom Cedar Rapids

Mark Stout, Titans coach
Mark Stout, Titans coach

By Jeff Morrow, correspondent

KENNEWICK, Wash. — Cedar Rapids Coach Mark Stoute expected an offensive shootout Saturday night against the Tri-Cities Fever.

What he didn’t expect was his Titans making so many mistakes — especially on special teams — that ended up costing his team an Indoor Football League game, losing to the Fever, 70-68, at the Toyota Center.

“We knew it would be a shootout coming in,” Stoute said. “They’re a good team. But we made some special teams gaffes. And the momentum we had was killed.”

The momentum was building early. Cedar Rapids scored on its first five offensive possessions.

Charles McCullum connected with Laron Council on a 29-yard touchdown pass to open the game; Radamez Rubio added a 20-yard field goal; two McCullum keepers for TDs; and a 3-yard Council dash for another score.

The Titans had the Fever on the ropes with a 30-14 lead late in the second quarter.

Then all things went to down hill for the Titans — and it happened in under a minute.

To wit:

- Fever kicker Brady Beeson connected on a 52-yard field goal with 1 minute left before intermission, cutting Cedar Rapids’ lead to 30-17.

- Beeson’s ensuing onside kick could not be fielded by the Titans and Tri-Cities linebacker Boris Lee recovered. Three plays later, Fever quarterback Dante Warren hit Tre Young for a 12-yard TD pass, cutting the Titans’ lead to 30-23.

- On the next kickoff, Desmond Tardy fielded the squib in the end zone, but Young knocked it out of his hands. In the ensuing mad scramble for the ball, Tri-Cities’ Keithon Flemming pounced on it in the end zone for a touchdown. The game was tied at 30-30, and there was still 33 seconds left in the half.

-  T.J. Simmons hung on to the ball on the next kickoff. But on a second-and-9 from his own 7, McCullum was sacked by the Fever’s Malcolm Riley in the end zone for a safety, and Tri-Cities had a 32-30 lead.

Stoute was beside himself over this one minute breakdown.

“We were not mentally in sync,” he said. “You cannot win on any one play. Charles taking that sack was another mistake. Why not just throw the ball away?

“Our problem is we’re making mental mistakes, trying to focus on making the big plays.”

Only when Rubio was able to connect on a 27-yard field goal as time expired were the Titans able to go into intermission with a 33-32 lead.

“That little 14- to 16-point turnaround, we lost some momentum,” McCullum said. “But we got it back with the field goal at the end of the half. Then we kind of came out in the third quarter and played worse.”

The Fever opened the second half with a quick touchdown for a 38-33 lead.

And then it happened again: another Cedar Rapids special teams mistake. Simmons returned the kickoff, but the Fever’s Young knocked the ball out of his hands and Lee recovered.

Five plays later, Warren hit Flemming for a 6-yard TD pass and a 44-33 Fever lead.

From there, it became a shootout — as if it wasn’t already — as the teams kept trading scores.

“And I didn’t want a shootout because I didn’t know if we had the experience at quarterback and other positions to match them in one,” said Fever Coach Adam Shackleford.

It looked as if the Titans had found the upper hand when Trevor Glomski blocked a Beeson 48-yard field goal attempt. When Council rushed in from 4 yards out for a touchdown one play later, Cedar Rapids held a 54-51 lead with 11:54 to play.

The Fever answered. Warren ran in from 8 yards for a touchdown with 7:21 left to play for a 57-54 Tri-Cities lead.

In a game of big plays, the biggest came on the next possession.

On a seoncd-and-5 at the Fever 8, McCullum found Carl Sims open at the back of the end zone. The pass was a little behind Sims, and the receiver got a hand on the ball. But it popped up in the air, and Tri-Cities defensive back Dennis Rogan caught it six yards deep into the end zone.

Rogan turned and ran, racing up the sidelines until 56 yards later he had scored a touchdown for a 63-54 Fever lead with 6:03 to play.

“(The Titans) thought the ball hit the wall,” Shackleford said. “But it was about time we got a break.”

Cedar Rapids couldn’t catch Tri-Cities again, and the Titans fall to 5-4 — a half-game behind Chicago for second place in the United Conference.

“We should have learned from our mistakes the past few games,” McCullum said. ”We weren’t playing Titans football today.”

NOTES: DL Michael Graise may have separated his elbow late in the fourth quarter. The game was stopped as he was tended to. Stoute wasn’t sure of Graise’s condition after the game. ... Brian Pray had a strong game for the Titans, catching nine passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. ... McCullum accounted for seven touchdowns — four passing and three rushing. He was 13-for-18 for 231 yards. ... Warren led the Fever in rushing with 75 yards, and he scored four times. Flemming added 64 yards of rushing. ... DBs Simmons and Cashmin Thomas each had 10 tackles for the Titans. ... The Fever was familiar with a number of the Titans. McCullum, Thomas, Graise and Walner Leandre all played for the Everett Raptors last season before that franchise folded. The Raptors and the Fever played each other four times last season. Of course, Titans assistant head coach Sean Ponder was Everett’s head coach last season. ... Another Cedar Rapids-Tri-Cities connection: The Tri-Cities was the beneficiary when the owners of the Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets decided to move that Continental Basketball Association franchise to Kennewick back in 1991. The team lasted four seasons at the Toyota Center before it was folded.

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