CEDAR RAPIDS — With the first word you hear, you know Nick Haag is all Massachusetts.
The second-year Cedar Rapids Titans linebacker and native of Worcester, Mass., wears his hometown pride like a stitched patch on his No. 44 jersey.
“I’ve got a great community that I come from in Mass.,” Haag said before the Titans were edged by the Green Bay Blizzard, 52-49, before 4,172 fans Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Center. “I’ve got the best friends in the world.
Loved ones, family ones that support me to the fullest. They have since I was young playing athletics. That’s what makes the difference.
“That’s what makes you really go out there and work your hardest because you know it’s not just for yourself. It’s for everybody else.”
Former Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien’s 39-yard field goal as time expired won it for Green Bay (3-4). Cedar Rapids falls to 5-3, three games behind undefeated Sioux Falls in the loss column.
Six tackles against Green Bay gives Haag 69 this season, which leads the Indoor Football League. Three times this season, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound speedster has recorded a dozen tackles in a game.
Add in 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss, and he’s a big reason why the Cedar Rapids Titans defense entered the game ranked first in the IFL in fewest yards and points allowed.
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“It starts with the coaching,” Haag said. “We have a great defensive coordinator (Joey Smith). He works us really hard. He puts us in the right position, so I’ve got to give him most of the credit. And also, the guys around me. I’m surrounded by so much talent. With those guys, it makes me look good.”
All the way back to his days at Worcester’s Holy Name Catholic High School and Division II Assumption College, Haag’s trademark has been his boundless energy and focused intensity. What the fans see on game day is no different from what his teammates and coaches see every day in practice.
“It started when I was real little with my dad,” Haag said. “Coming from him, he always told me that it doesn’t matter if it’s a game or a practice, you’ve got to be ready to go and you’ve got to treat every day like it could be your last.”
Haag’s professional football travels have included the Chicago Rush and Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League before finding an IFL home in Cedar Rapids.
No matter where his travels take him, Haag remains a son of Massachusetts whose pride only increased in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing less than 50 miles from Worcester.
“We’re proud to be where we’re from,” Haag said. “I think honestly, as you see, that brought the city closer together to a whole new way. It really impacted the city as far as how to rise and stand together.”
Green Bay is the only IFL team with two wins at Cedar Rapids in Coach Mark Stoute’s three seasons.
The game-winning kick was the fourth of the game for Budzien, including two over 40 yards. Green Bay quarterback Donovan Porterie threw for 145 yards and four scores.
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Cedar Rapids quarterback Sam Durley completed nine of his first 10 passes for 132 yards, and finished 17 of 32 for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He added two rushing scores and was intercepted twice, both off of tipped balls.
A spectacular touchdown grab by receiver Bryan Pray tied the game at 49-49 with 24.5 seconds left, but it merely delayed Budzien’s heroics.
Running back Washaun Ealey had two touchdown runs for the Titans, giving him a rushing touchdown in all eight games this season.
Cedar Rapids travels to Wichita Falls next Saturday, which has won three in a row after an 0-4 start to the season.
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