CEDAR RAPIDS – A quick scan of the Cedar Rapids Titans roster this season uncovers a seemingly glaring absence.
There is only one quarterback.
With the stringent roster limitations of the Indoor Football League, added value is found in players who can play multiple positions, and Cedar Rapids has that player in veteran receiver Ryan Balentine.
“I’ve got to do whatever I can do to help my team,” Balentine said before Cedar Rapids defeated the Nebraska Danger, 51-50, before 3,578 fans Saturday night at the U.S. Cellular Center. “If my team needs some help somewhere else, I’m obligated to go. I’m ready to go when my name is being called. Hopefully this can say that, ‘He’s more than just a wide receiver, he’s an athlete. He can play multiple positions. He can play defensive back. He can do kickoffs, special teams.”
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Balentine has 30 receptions for 332 yards and seven touchdowns this season for Cedar Rapids, but once starting quarterback Dylan Favre left last week’s 62-49 loss at Sioux Falls with an injury to his throwing shoulder, Balentine slid along the line and filled in under center.
After a 2-of-6 passing performance for 21 yards and an interception, Balentine took plenty of repetitions this week in practice in the event Favre could not play Saturday against Nebraska.
“It’s not the first time, I had to actually go through this situation last year,” Balentine said. “It started a little slow. But just like anything else, I mean I’ve been doing it for this long now, it didn’t take much to get it back.”
Balentine was a dual-threat quarterback as a prep in Killeen, Texas, and at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College. He made the switch to full-time receiver after transferring to Southern Mississippi, where he snared 49 receptions for 742 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior in an honorable mention All-Conference USA season in 2011.
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“I grew up since 7 years old playing quarterback,” Balentine said. “Probably my second year in the indoor game, they let me start my first game at quarterback. We actually won the game. That was my first win since I played quarterback in this league.”
Favre was deemed healthy enough to start the game and connected with Balentine on three passes for 36 yards, including a 23-yard scoring strike that gave the Titans a 20-13 lead a minute before halftime.
“Couldn’t decide what kind of coverage they were really running,” Balentine said. “Everything kind of fell into place, really. I was able to capitalize and make it happen.”
Favre finished with 117 yards passing and four TDs, two to Jared Elmore. Elmore finished with three catches for 53 yards and the two touchdowns give him 15 this season, which is tied for the league lead. Favre did not throw an interception and is now also tied for the league lead with 28 touchdown passes.
The final Favre-to-Elmore connection was a 21-yard touchdown that gave the Titans their 51-50 lead with 9:23 to go, sprung by a devastating downfield block by offensive lineman A.J. Harmon.
Running back Waymon James added 155 all-purpose yards (78 rushing, 77 receiving) and scored a pair of short touchdown runs for Cedar Rapids (5-3). James utilized a quick burst up the field, often on a delayed handoff from Favre, to pick up big chunks of yardage.
“At first I was seeing it but I wasn’t just hitting it right away,” James said. “Our offensive coordinator (Dixie Wooten), he just came to me and said, ‘Waymon, it’s right there, just hit it.’ I was trusting in what he was seeing so he was able to help me out a lot.”
The Titans’ defense came up big against Nebraska quarterback Jameel Sewell, last year’s league MVP. Sewell – who tallied eight touchdowns in a March 4 victory against Cedar Rapids – had half that amount on Saturday.
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“As a DB (defensive back), we can cover,” said Tim Bennett, who collected seven tackles from the secondary. “That’s what we can do. I give much credit to our d-line and our linebackers. They did a great job containing him and then when he did flush, we rally tackled. He’s a big kid, so you have to rally tackle him. That’s what we did a great job of.”
Cedar Rapids linebacker Niko Sierra led the team with eight tackles, while defensive backs Arius Wright and Fred Griggs added seven. Unlike the last meeting, the Titans’ defense turned Nebraska over on downs or forced field goal attempts on three of the first four defensive possessions and the crucial final possession. Nebraska's kicker missed a 15-yard field goal attempt with less than a minute to go that would have given the Danger the lead.
“Last time it was feast or famine,” Cedar Rapids Coach Mark Stoute said. “We’d get a stop, they’d get a touchdown. What we want to do right now is reduce the field, make them have to kick field goals, put some pressure on the kicker. Huge miss there at the end.”
O.J. Simpson totaled two receiving touchdowns and a kick return score for Nebraska (5-3).
Cedar Rapids visits Wichita Falls (4-2) this Friday with a chance to claim sole possession of second place in the United Conference.
“We’ve got to get healthy real quick,” Stoute said. “Obviously Favre, I think, came out of it now healthy so we’ve got to get healthy. They’ll enjoy it tonight.”
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