CEDAR RAPIDS – When integrating a rookie quarterback with a collection of new faces, it helps to have a leader who has been in their shoes.
For the first time in four years, someone other than Head Coach Mark Stoute is directing the on-field offensive attack for the Cedar Rapids Titans. First-year offensive coordinator Dixie Wooten leans on a dozen years of indoor football playing experience to help shape the offense.
“Playing in this league, you saw every defense a defense can throw at you,” Wooten said before Cedar Rapids (4-2) defeated the Green Bay Blizzard, 70-40, for its third win in a row in front of 3,847 fans Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Center. “I can help (Cedar Rapids rookie quarterback) Dylan (Favre) out a lot. ‘This is what I saw, so they’re going to do this to you.’ The experience helps a lot dealing with a quarterback.”
Wooten’s offense was in a 14-0 hole after three empty possessions Saturday night, but caught fire after the opening quarter.
Wooten’s prize pupil — Favre — directed touchdown drives on four-straight possessions in the second quarter, highlighted by a 12-yard touchdown run and TD passes to receivers Jared Elmore and Ryan Balentine. A 13-yard field goal from Nick Belcher helped send the Titans to the locker room up, 32-23.
“We started real slow, I feel like the energy wasn’t there,” Favre said. “We just stuck with it. They did things a little differently than we were anticipating, but that’s part of making in-game adjustments.”
Favre tossed three more TD passes in the second half, and his 5-yard TD run with 7:39 left in the third quarter pushed the Cedar Rapids lead to double digits at 39-26.
Green Bay never got within single digits the rest of the way.
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“They had done a good job on defense of watching our short game,” Wooten said. “We knew we had to make adjustments, so we had to start going to the deep ball.”
Elmore caught a 45-yard score in the third quarter, while Balentine went for 23 yards.
With two scores, Elmore assumed the league lead with 33 catches and 11 receiving TDs, and is third in receiving yards (396).
As a former quarterback, Wooten’s biggest impact can be seen in the development of Favre, who now leads the league with 28 combined passing and rushing touchdowns. Favre is second in both passing TDs (20) and yards (890). Saturday, he also hurt the Blizzard with his legs with 82 yards and two scores.
“When he runs, that means the linebacker has gotten out of there and he has a wide-open lane,” Wooten said. “He’s a pretty smart quarterback from the pocket.”
Wooten’s offensive role has allowed Stoute to flip to the other side of the ball and coordinate the Cedar Rapids defense during the game.
“It allows him to bring a fresh look at it,” Stoute said. “And it allows him to now take what we do in our scheme and then translate it and hopefully take it to even a higher level.”
As a player, Wooten ranks third in IFL history in career pass completions and passing yards. He hung up the pads after the 2011 season to help coach his son, Dixie Wooten III, as he entered high school. His son will be a freshman at the University of Houston in the fall.
“It was pretty good, but it was pretty tough at the same time,” Wooten said about being the father of a recruited athlete. "I couldn’t show him any love like I wanted to, but I had to be the tough guy on everything. I’m glad that he took the coaching and understands what he had to do to be successful and now he’s working hard and becoming a great O-lineman.”
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In the offseason, Wooten coaches football at Houston’s Southeast Prep Post Grad Academy. Wooten arrived in Cedar Rapids from now-defunct Bemidji, where he was the head coach of the Axemen for 10 games last season.
“It was big time for me,” Wooten said. “Being the head coach of a young team you have to go through a lot. … It built me up a lot. I would love to be a head coach again one day, but right now I’m learning from Coach Stoute and getting my mind right as an offensive coordinator.”
After the 14-0 deficit, the Cedar Rapids defense kept Green Bay out of the end zone for the next seven possessions. Defensive back Devin Ghafoor intercepted a pass for the second game in a row, while backfield mate Fred Griggs collected 12 tackles and returned an onside kick five yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
“I feel like we’re starting to mesh with time,” Griggs said. “We’re all new guys ... We’re just trying to put them together and it was a good win for us.”
Former Cedar Rapids receiver Bryan Pray caught two passes for 19 yards, including a 4-yard TD in the closing seconds for Green Bay (1-5).
Cedar Rapids visits five-time defending league champion Sioux Falls this Saturday before returning home April 16 against Nebraska.
“We set a standard here over the past two games and that’s where we’ll continue to play at,” Favre said. “Just have a great week of preparation and get after it.”
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