SPORTS

Playoff-bound Titans post rare IFL shutout

48-0 win over Bemidji is third shutout in league history; Ealey ties franchise record with 24th TD this season

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Cedar Rapids Titans defensive back B.J. Lowery (5) returns a blocked field goal during their game against Bemidji Axemen at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, June 13, 2015. (KC McGinnis/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids Titans defensive back B.J. Lowery (5) returns a blocked field goal during their game against Bemidji Axemen at U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, June 13, 2015. (KC McGinnis/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The touchdowns just keep piling up for Washaun Ealey, and the Cedar Rapids Titans are in the playoffs for the third year in a row behind an historic defensive performance.

The Cedar Rapids tailback ran for 66 yards and two touchdowns, tying a franchise record with 24 total touchdowns this season, and the Titans defense posted just the third shutout in the history of the Indoor Football League, 48-0, before 3,940 fans Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Center.

“Whatever they give me, that’s what I take,” Ealey said. “I really don’t have a certain style. I’m really just a one-cut guy, but I try to switch it up, try to make some guys miss and try to run through tackles as well so I try to be an all-around back.”

Ealey joins newly-crowned IFL Hall of Famer LaRon Council in the franchise record books and has a touchdown in all 13 games this season. He can pass Council and make it 14 for 14 in the regular-season finale next week at Sioux Falls.

“I give all the thanks to my offensive line and coaches and team players, receivers, everybody out there trying to get the job done,” Ealey said.

On this night, everybody did get the job done. As the offense searched for first-half footing, the defense stifled Bemidji (2-12) from the outset. Defensive lineman Jermiah Price continued his all-IFL caliber season with four tackles (two for loss), a fumble recovery and half a sack to extend his league lead to 11 ½ this season.

“We just came together as a defense and told each other that we were going to play hard and give everything we’ve got,” Price said. “We know we can do whatever we put our minds to, and our coaches, they believe in us so we just tried to go out and play hard.”

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Both of the prior shutouts in the Indoor Football League occurred in 2011. The Amarillo Venom defeated the Bricktown Brawlers, 77-0, but before that was a 51-0 victory for La Crosse (Wis.) over Lehigh Valley (Pa.). Ironically, the current Titans ownership group owned the La Crosse team that season, and standout Titans defensive lineman Xzavie Jackson played on that defense.

Cedar Rapids (9-4) built a 17-0 halftime lead thanks to Ealey’s first TD run of the game and a 15-yard strike down the middle from quarterback Willie Copeland to receiver Charles Watkins.

“We wanted to stay sharp, pound the ball,” Cedar Rapids Coach Mark Stoute said. “We took a couple of shots deep and then we wanted to settle back down and get back to what we do – pound the rock, methodically work our way down the field.”

The Titans blew the game open with three touchdowns in the third quarter. Ealey got it started with his franchise record-tying 5-yard scamper, then Copeland found Watkins along the right wall for a 22-yard score when it appeared the former Duke receiver was hemmed in.

“The team’s been getting on me,” Watkins said with a laugh. “I haven’t broke any tackles, I haven’t gotten any YAC, yards after catch, so I had to go out there and show them that I could break at least one or two tackles. It showed tonight.”

Watkins finished with 55 yards and two TDs, his fourth-straight game with at least four catches and 50 yards. Kick returner Robert Brown extended the Titans lead to 38-0 with a fantastic 41-yard return of a missed field goal for a touchdown.

“Before we even got the play going, I was too deep,” Brown said. “Coach Stoute kind of pushed me up so when I came up, I caught it before they even got downfield. So I at least had 20 yards before they even reached me.”

A pair of former Wisconsin Badgers finished off the scoring. Tailback Zack Brown scored from a yard out, while kicker Phillip Welch – in for an injured Rockne Belmonte – was a solid 2 of 3 in field goals and converted all six extra points.

Former Iowa State defensive lineman Rony Nelson had eight tackles and a sack for Bemidji.

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The Titans defense harassed Bemidji quarterback Efi Eyo into a 3-of-15 passing performance and sacked him three times.

“That’s communication,” Cedar Rapids cornerback B.J. Lowery said. “That’s all it was, pretty much. Especially for a defense. We just needed the offense to score and they did. They put up numbers for us.”

Cedar Rapids has now qualified for the playoffs in three of its four seasons as a franchise and all three years Stoute has been the coach. They’ll travel to Sioux Falls next week and face the undefeated four-time IFL champions in an essentially-meaningless game for both teams. A week later they’ll return to Sioux Falls for the United Conference championship game, with the winner earning a berth in the United Bowl.

“We’ve still got some work to do just knowing who we’re facing,” Price said. “You’ve got to be mistake-free, everyone’s got to do their job and be in the right spot at the right time, every time.”

l Comments: douglas.miles@thegazette.com

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