SPORTS

It all starts up front for streaking Cedar Rapids Titans

Cedar Rapids wins fourth game in a row, 46-33, over Iowa Barnstormers

CEDAR RAPIDS – It’s no secret how Cedar Rapids Titans quarterback Dylan Favre has managed to rank third in the Indoor Football League with 17 rushing touchdowns.

There's something about having a 1,000-pound wall to run behind.

“A lot of my rushing TDs have been one or two yards,” Favre said before Cedar Rapids held off the Iowa Barnstormers, 46-33, in front of 3,648 fans Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Center. “I know at least five or six of them have been walk-ins. I could have gotten on my hands and knees and crawled in.”

Favre added another walk-in rushing touchdown early in the second quarter that extended the Cedar Rapids lead to 21-9. On the next defensive possession, linebacker Niko Sierra corralled the first of his two interceptions and returned it eight yards for a score, which the second-year linebacker believes is his first since high school.

“It’s a great momentum boost for the team,” said Sierra, who also collected six tackles and recovered a fumble. “To be around with the guys and be excited, it’s always a good thing.”

Cedar Rapids (9-4) remains in second place in the United Conference ahead of 7-4 Wichita Falls, which owns the tiebreaker by virtue of a head-to-head victory over Cedar Rapids on April 22. The second-place team earns a home playoff game as the IFL expanded its playoff qualifiers by one per conference.

“We’re getting there, we’re not there yet,” Cedar Rapids Coach Mark Stoute said. “Defensively, we’re playing very well right now.”

Favre finished with 159 yards passing and three total touchdowns that increased his league lead to 60 this season. Favre was not sacked, thanks to an offensive line led by second-year guard A.J. Harmon, who has also seen time on the defensive line. The 6-foot-5, 340-pound former Georgia Bulldog says that when it comes to protecting the nephew of an NFL Hall of Famer and capitalizing on scoring chances, the heavy lifting falls on the offensive line.

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“It’s always a slap in the face if you get down to the goal line and can’t score,” Harmon said. “For the offensive line, Favre does a great job of challenging us himself, and as long as we can get him in there it’s always going to turn out good.”

The offensive line is coached by fourth-year associate head coach Michael Custer, who also coordinates the special teams unit. Custer has built a cohesive offensive line all season despite an influx of new faces from training camp to now.

“We just keep moving our feet,” Custer said. “That’s what we teach. Keep your hands on the guys. If we do that technically, everything is good for our offense to keep clicking the way it’s running right now.”

Harmon and fellow guard DeShawn Byrd bookend Terrence Clark, an IFL veteran who never played center until he took his game indoors.

“Center is a very complicated position, to say the least,” Clark said. “Snapping, stepping and blocking at the same time. It takes a lot, but I’m comfortable with it now.”

Clark’s recovery of an offensive fumble in the first quarter kept a Cedar Rapids drive alive, which ended with a 15-yard touchdown run by receiver-turned-tailback Dawan Scott that gave the Titans the lead for good, 14-9.

It was another nice running night from Scott, who switched positions in place of the injured Waymon James (knee). Scott finished the game with 77 yards and has over 160 in his last two games.

“I played running back in college and all through high school,” said Scott, who played collegiately at Miami (Ohio). “That’s my natural position. … We’ve got a great O-line, so I’ve got to give it up to the O-line, because I couldn’t do anything without them.”

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Kicker Nick Belcher booted four field goals, including a season-long 49-yard conversion. Belcher added field goals of 46, 26 and 17 yards, but missed three in the fourth quarter as the Titans attempted to put the game away.

Newly-acquired wide receiver DeJay Lester stepped in for ailing Jared Elmore (calf) and caught six passes for 68 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown that gave the Titans their largest lead, 46-15, with 5:35 left in the third quarter.

“I haven’t played a game in two weeks,” said Lester, who began the season with Tri-Cities. “I felt like I had to do something to cap off my performance with Tri-Cities. I miss those guys like crazy, but this is my new family and I’ve just got to take advantage of the opportunities.”

Former Northern Iowa quarterback Brion Carnes threw for 172 yards and four touchdowns for Iowa (4-7). Three late TD tosses by Carnes – one to former Upper Iowa receiver Lucas Hefty and two to former Titans receiver Bryan Pray – pulled the Barnstormers within 46-33.

A late interception by defensive back Tim Bennett – his second this season – sealed the victory for Cedar Rapids, which visits Iowa twice in the next three games, beginning June 4 at Wells Fargo Arena.

“They’re going to play hard, they don’t have anything to lose,” Stoute said. “They are going to try their best to beat you. You have to go out and play football.”

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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