Axemen fall to Cedar Rapids 40-32 but win over fans

Photo courtesy of Brent Cizek
Photo courtesy of Brent Cizek

Article courtesy of Bemidji Pioneer:

BEMIDJI — Loud music, Native American dancers, a primer urging fan participation, motorcycles leading the Paul Bunyan-clad cheerleaders onto the field and the Bemidji VFW color guard comprised the preliminaries to Friday’s inaugural game in the history of Bemidji’s Indoor Football League franchise.

The Bemidji Axemen welcomed the Cedar Rapids Titans to the Sanford Center for Friday’s exhibition game and both teams did their best to entertain the crowd.

For the record, Cedar Rapids won the game 42-30. More importantly, however, the Axemen and indoor football appeared to be a hit with the fans.

“The fans did a great job and made things fun for us,” said Axeman head coach Robert Fuller. “We wanted to put on a good show and, for the most part, I felt we did that.”

The game offered genuine football as the action was filled with precision passing, clutch catches and vicious hits. The game also featured antics that Bemidji fans had never seen before.

In the first half a kickoff bounced off the Sanford Center ceiling. Cedar Rapids was awarded a safety when a Bemidji snap sailed over the quarterback’s head and over the padded hockey boards.

After each first down the chain gang moved the sticks to the appropriate spots, leaned them on the boards and headed for the nearest free area on the field. There was no place to hide as they remained on the field, along with a coach from each team.

In addition to accuracy, being quick on your feet is a valuable asset for the members of the chain gang at an IFL contest.

The game itself is very fast-paced. The quarters are 15 minutes long, but all but the final two minutes are played in running time. A pair of wide receivers are in forward motion on each play and the running start enables them to cover the 50 yards of playing surface in a hurry.

The Axemen took full advantage of the unique rules from the outset. Bemidji took over on its 9-yard line after the opening kickoff and, on the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Hunter Wanket threw a bomb.

On the other end of the field was teammate Maurice Patterson who was behind the defense inside the Cedar Rapids 5-yard line. Patterson caught the pass along the right boards and completed the 41-yard touchdown play.

Josiah Powell booted the conversion and 28 seconds into the franchise’s first game, the Axemen were ahead 7-0.

Punts are not allowed in indoor football so field goal attempts can come from anywhere on the field. In the first half Cedar Rapids missed from 37 yards, 48 yards and 52 yards. The Axemen missed from 57, 44, 29 and 57 yards.

Cedar Rapids did connect on one first-half field goal and that came in the series after the Titans scored their initial points on a safety.

The Axemen scored the only points of the second quarter when quarterback Joshua Aakre, who played collegiately at Bethel, found the end zone on a 7-yard run.

“This was a new experience for me,” Aakre said. “I saw one game in Sioux Falls before and I am very grateful that the coach took a shot with me, The speed of the game is much faster (than the college game) and we are trying to develop chemistry (with his new teammates). We didn’t come away with a ‘W’ but, hopefully, the people got a taste of the game and will come back.”

The second half also featured early fireworks as Cedar Rapids scored on a 35-yard pass on the second play of the third quarter. Bemidji quickly responded, however, as Wanket connected with Warren Matthews Jr. along the right boards and, following a roughing the passer call on the play, the Axemen had a first-and-goal at the 3.

On the next play Thomas Gordon ran in for the score.

The conversion was wide Bemidji settled for a 20-12 lead.

The scoring spree continued the rest of the way and with 9:34 to play in the game Cedar Rapids snapped a 28-28 deadlock with a 5-yard touchdown pass.

The visitors iced the victory in the final minutes as they recorded a safety and a touchdown to make the final 42-30.

“I knew we had some question marks with our offensive line and that was a deciding factor during the stretch,” Fuller said. “But you have to expect that. To bring a rooking team that has had six days of practice against Cedar Rapids, a team that played in the conference championship game last year, and play this well, I think we saw many positives.

“But we absolutely have to get better. And we will,” the coach added.

Cedar Rapids 42, Axemen 30

Cedar Rapids 5 0 23 16 – 42

Bemidji 7 7 14 2 – 30

First quarter

B-Patterson, 41-pass from Wanket. PAT-Powell kick. 1:07

CR-safety (fumbledsnap out of end zone).11:51

CR-Belemont,40-FG. 14:14

Second Quarter

B-Aakre, 7-run. PAT-Powell kick.11:15

Third Quarter

CR-Sims, 40-pass from Perez. PAT-Bellemont kick.2:06

B-Gordon, 3-run. PAT-Powell kick. 3:29

CR-Betterson, 8-pass from Perez. PAT-Belemont kick. 7:32

CR-Safety. 9:52

CR-Sims, 25-pass from Perez. PAT-Belemont kick. 9:57

B-Aakre, 1-run. PAT-Pippen pass from Aakre. 13:43

Fourth Quarter

CR-Farrell, 5-pass from Perez. PAT-Belemont kick.5:16

B-Safety. 11:19

CR-Ohm, 3-run. PAT-Belemont kick. 13:27