CEDAR RAPIDS — For Arius Wright and Tyree Robinson, usually all it takes is a look or a nod to know where to be.
Just four games into their Indoor Football League careers, the talented Cedar Rapids Titans’ defensive back duo have a leg up when it comes to on-field communication.
They spent four years honing it as teammates at Western Kentucky.
“It benefits a great deal,” Wright said before the Titans defeated the Colorado Ice, 39-29, in front of 4,326 fans Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Center. “On the field, it don’t really take much. I just give him that look, he just gives me that look. We know what’s going on. We know how to play and make plays within the confines of the defense.”
After the Cedar Rapids offense sputtered for much of the first three quarters and were led by four field goals from kicker Rockne Belmonte (two from 50-plus yards away), Wright supplied two pivotal plays in the second half.
With Colorado driving and the game tied at 19-19 and 6:08 left in the third quarter, Wright stepped in front of a Brandon Mitchell pass and wrestled it away from former Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree at the Cedar Rapids 13-yard line, returning it 27 yards to the Cedar Rapids 10.
“I tried to read the receiver,” Wright said. “I put my hands up at the last second and it fell into me.”
The interception was the third this season for Wright, which leads the IFL.
Five plays later, quarterback Sam Durley found a streaking Bryan Pray for an 18-yard touchdown and a 25-19 lead for Cedar Rapids.
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After Colorado cut the lead to 25-22 with a field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Ice got the ball back with a chance to tie the game. Robinson prevented a big play with a leaping pass breakup on second down, which led to a field goal attempt. The 56-yard try fell short, fielded by Wright at his own 1-yard line, which he returned all the way to the Colorado 17.
“Whenever I’m able to make a big play or put my offense in better field position, I’ll go all out,” Wright said. “I’ll break my neck if I have to.”
Durley cashed in on the very next play by rolling right and finding receiver Charles Watkins at the 4-yard line. Watkins turned and dove across the goal line to give the Titans their largest lead at 32-22 with 7:03 to go.
Colorado (1-2) got as close as three points on a touchdown with 5:28 to go, but the Titans answered when Durley found running back Washaun Ealey against the right wall. Ealey cradled the pass, then weaved all the way across the field for a 21-yard catch-and-run touchdown and a 39-29 Titans’ lead.
“I just knew I got an open field,” Ealey said. “And usually when I’m in the open field, I try to score. I just knew our offense needed a spark, and I just try my best to give them that spark every time I get the ball.”
Durley finished with 143 yards passing and three touchdowns, all in the last 18 minutes of the game.
Wright finished with six tackles and pushed his season total to 32, which is third in the league.
Wright and Robinson arrived at Western Kentucky together in 2010 and started the majority of their respective careers at cornerback. In Cedar Rapids, both have moved inside with Wright at safety and Robinson at “jack” linebacker — a linebacker/safety hybrid. Robinson cracked the starting lineup March 15 and has 18 tackles, two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery in three starts.
“You just wait for your moment to come,” Robinson said. “And when it comes, you’ve got to take advantage of it. I think the jack fits me. I like playing the cover guy, but I also like being in the box and hitting a little bit.”
In their second game starting together March 20 against Tri-Cities, they were a desperation heave away from a defensive shutout in a 56-8 win.
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“We’re starting to find our stride as a defense,” Wright said. “We’re starting to find our defensive identity. When you think of Cedar Rapids Titans defense, you think of hard-nosed defense that’s coming to play every week.”
At Western Kentucky, Wright and Robinson were part of the school’s first bowl appearance at the FBS level when their 2012 team qualified for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Before the bowl game, the coach that brought them both to Bowling Green, Ky., Willie Taggart, left to coach South Florida. The school responded with a highly-publicized hire of former NFL and Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.
“I think we were very fortunate to have Coach Petrino,” Wright said. “For the simple fact that it made us better football players.”
Saturday was the last home game for the Titans (4-1) until April 25. Six of the final nine games will be on the road, beginning April 10 at Nebraska.
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