CEDAR RAPIDS – Saddled with a short week of preparation, Cedar Rapids Titans Coach Mark Stoute preserved his team’s physical contact for game day against Tri-Cities.
With a 16-hour bus ride home from a double-overtime win Sunday at Billings, Mont., the Titans were left with just two days of pad-less preparation.
It turned out to be a schedule that suits this bunch pretty well.
The Titans scored on their first 10 possessions while shutting out Tri-Cities until well into the third quarter in a dominant 56-8 victory before 3,659 fans Friday at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We had a good practice the last couple days and the guys seemed focused,” Stoute said. “We had a lot of disappointment for the way we played last week. They came back today really focused and locked it down.”
Cedar Rapids (3-1) jumped on Tri-Cities on its first play from scrimmage when quarterback Sam Durley found a streaking Willie Carter down the left sideline for a 19-yard touchdown. A 30-yard Rockne Belmonte field goal and a Durley 1-yard keeper extended the lead to 17-0 early in the second quarter.
Tri-Cities (1-2) threatened to score on a couple of occasions in the opening half. Thanks to a facemask penalty, the Fever ran eight plays inside the 5-yard line, but failed to score when Cedar Rapids defensive back Tyree Robinson recovered a fumble on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
“Just playing as a team and playing as a unit,” said linebacker Nick Haag, who finished with 12 tackles and two sacks. “I’ve got to thank every single guy on this team from every single position. They worked their ass off all day on defense. Mentally sharp, and on top of that, everyone’s coming to hit and we were hitting.”
Durley responded with another strike to Carter, this time from 21 yards out, for a 24-0 lead. It was the best game of the season for Durley, who finished with 154 yards on an efficient 13-of-17 passing and three touchdowns.
“I think Coach Stoute did a great job of preparing us this week,” Durley said. “It was a short week and we made the most of it. We came out, the offense produced and the defense did their thing.”
Tri-Cities again advanced inside the 5-yard line, but the Titans defense bowed up when Jermiah Price recovered another fumble. The Cedar Rapids defense finished with five sacks, four fumble recoveries, two interceptions and surrendered just 105 yards.
“I think there’s no doubt about it, we have the best defense in the league,” Haag said. “As long as we play together as a unit and work as a team. We’ve got the skill, we’ve got athletes to play the positions, and I see this defense staying at no. 1 and not taking a backseat to anybody.”
Another Belmonte field goal gave the Titans a 27-0 halftime lead. Belmonte finished with four field goals.
Cedar Rapids defensive lineman Xzavie Jackson recovered another fumble to open the third quarter, and tailback Washaun Ealey cashed it in with an 8-yard touchdown run and a 34-0 lead.
Tri-Cities got on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter on a 43-yard desperation heave from quarterback Houston Lillard to Andrew Pierce.
Former Iowa defensive back B.J. Lowery intercepted his first pass of the season early in the fourth quarter. Four plays later, former Wisconsin and Pittsburgh running back Zach Brown plunged in from a yard out for a 54-8 lead.
Haag and defensive lineman Xzavie Jackson combined for a safety to close out the scoring.
The Titans host Colorado next Saturday.
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