CEDAR RAPIDS – Empty offensive possessions won’t get you very far against the returning Indoor Football League MVP, and the Cedar Rapids Titans had too many of the former to contend with the latter.
Nebraska quarterback Jameel Sewell accounted for eight touchdowns throwing and running as the Danger defeated the Titans, 78-71, in front of 3,941 fans Friday night at the U.S. Cellular Center.
“The first half we just gave up too many easy touchdowns on mental mistakes,” Cedar Rapids Coach Mark Stoute said. “That’s a good football team. They’re going to play tough, we’re going to play tough. We just can’t spot them that early lead.”
Sewell was the league’s most valuable player last season and was equally efficient Friday with a quick release and elusive legs that kept the pressure on the Cedar Rapids secondary and neutralized the Titans pass rush. Sewell finished with 174 yards passing and directed scoring drives on 12 straight possessions with four TD passes and four rushing.
“Too many mental errors,” Stoute said. “Just too many guys running open.”
Cedar Rapids was crisp early on. Its defense kept Nebraska (2-0) off the scoreboard on the first possession of the game, then opened the scoring when receiver Charles Watkins fielded a short pass along the line of scrimmage from quarterback Dylan Favre and sprinted straight down the numbers for a 15-yard touchdown, his first of the season.
Cedar Rapids running back Waymon James scored the first of his two rushing touchdowns when he fielded a pitch from Favre and bowled into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown with 1:16 left in the first quarter. James was with Nebraska last season and arrived in Cedar Rapids last month after being traded twice in a week.
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Things began to unravel for Cedar Rapids on the first play of the second quarter when former University of Nebraska defensive back Corey Cooper returned a tipped Favre pass 25 yards for a touchdown to give the Danger their first lead, 21-14.
Cedar Rapids appeared poised to deliver the equalizer, but two botched snaps forced a field-goal attempt, which was blocked by Danger defensive lineman Ino Vitale. Vitale blocked another field goal late in the quarter, while former Graceland University kicker Cody Thornton booted a pair field goals for a 33-21 Nebraska lead at halftime.
“We’re not stepping down inside like we’ve been taught,” Stoute said of the blocked field goals. “Always with field goals you protect it inside out, and there’s no reason we’re not getting it done.”
Vitale sacked Favre in the end zone for a safety on the Titans’ first possession of the second half, which led to a 21-yard TD pass from Sewell to O.J. Simpson and a 42-21 lead for the Danger. Vitale would combine on another safety in the fourth quarter.
Favre threw for 221 yards on 15-of-19 passing and six touchdowns – five in the second half – and his 36-yarder to Jared Elmore with 1:48 to go got the Cedar Rapids deficit under 10 points for the first time in the second half at 71-65.
“Clawed our way back in it in the second half,” Stoute said. “It’s indoor football. It’s never over until it’s over. You’ve always got a chance, then you’ve got to come up and make some stops.”
Favre also ran for a score, while James carried the ball 14 times for 73 yards and added a third score on a 55-yard kickoff return.
Elmore caught six passes for 123 yards and three scores, while Watkins collected two TD receptions.
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“We know we’re talented, we just have to gel and handle all the little stuff,” Stoute said. “We can’t wait until the end of the game to pour it on, we’ve got to come out and play the first half the way we played the second half.”
Cedar Rapids (1-2) visits the Tri-Cities Fever next Friday and will return to the U.S. Cellular Center March 26 against five-time defending IFL champion Sioux Falls.
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