CEDAR RAPIDS – The No. 1-ranked defense delivered the opening jabs, and the record-setting quarterback provided an early knockout for the Cedar Rapids Titans.
Cedar Rapids quarterback Dylan Favre threw six touchdown passes and ran for another as the Titans scored the first 27 points of the game and routed the Wichita Falls Nighthawks, 66-36, in an Indoor Football League wild-card playoff game Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“Early on, it was really everything we called,” Favre said. “It’s always about execution. It’s not about what’s working and what’s not working. It’s about what you make work. Everything was working in the first half.”
The win earned Cedar Rapids a trip to five-time defending IFL champion Sioux Falls Storm (15-1) for the July 16 United Conference championship game. Sioux Falls has won 59-straight home games, including the last three conference title games against the Titans. The winner advances to the United Bowl July 23.
“It’s going to take a game like this where we’re playing all four phases of the game again,” Cedar Rapids Coach Mark Stoute said. “That’s a good football team, probably the best team we faced all year. We battled them three times, we’ve just got to make this one be different from the last two up there.”
The Cedar Rapids defense knew they had to be on-point against Wichita Falls and its star quarterback Charles McCullum, who played for the Titans in 2013. McCullum – who led the IFL with 2,959 passing yards and tossed a league-record 11 scores in the season finale – was intercepted by Titans’ defensive backs Nate Lindsey and Tim Bennett as Cedar Rapids built a 42-7 first-half lead.
Bennett returned his pick 30 yards for a score.
“We were in a form of man (-to-man coverage),” Bennett said. “I saw my man going in and the quarterback didn’t throw a good ball. I jumped out in front of it and then I went to my high-school days and took it back.”
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In the IFL, only the Cedar Rapids defense allowed fewer than 40 points per game (39.3), and the Titans led the league in both fewest yards allowed (200.2 per game) and pass yards allowed (141.9). Cedar Rapids’ 41 sacks and five defensive touchdowns were also tops in the IFL.
Behind the dominant defense, Favre built a 56-21 halftime advantage with a quartet of scoring strikes of 26, 44, 34 and six yards to receiver Ryan Balentine.
“It was just perfect timing,” Balentine said. “Couldn’t get any better than that.”
Favre added an early 16-yard scamper and a six-yard toss in the first half to receiver Jared Elmore, who missed the final four games of the regular season due to injury.
“Just him being out there made us a better offense,” Favre said. “Great team win.”
Cedar Rapids scored touchdowns on all eight first-half possessions.
Favre – who set franchise records this season in passing yards (2,483), pass TDs (50) and total TDs (68) – completed nine of his first 10 passes and finished with 235 passing yards, 56 rushing and equaled a season-high with seven total touchdowns.
“We felt like if we could get on top of them early defensively, our offense could rise to the challenge,” Stoute said. “We talked all week about the legacy of this game. Tonight, in Cedar Rapids. We’re never going to get the chance again to have that first playoff game.”
Seven catches, 124 yards and four TDs are all season-high marks for Balentine.
“He’s always a weapon,” Favre said. “Anybody who’s familiar with this league knows what he can do.”
Former Northwestern tailback Venric Mark closed the first half with a short touchdown run.
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The Cedar Rapids offense stalled for much of the second half, but another Lindsey interception – this time in the end zone late in the third quarter – and a key fourth-down stop midway through the final quarter prevented Wichita Falls from getting closer than a four-score deficit.
“We worked on what they were giving us,” Lindsey said. “Stayed true to our game plan. I just trusted my feet, trusted what I saw and I just made the play.”
Elmore rebounded from a pair of drops and a fumble with a short reception that he took down the sideline 43 yards for his second touchdown of the game that extended the Cedar Rapids lead to 63-28. Elmore finished with six grabs and 73 yards.
McCullum totaled 203 yards passing, three scores and three interceptions.
Linebacker Niko Sierra led the Cedar Rapids defense with 10 tackles, while Bennett added seven and Arius Wright tallied six.
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