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Indoor Football: Axemen drop home finale to Cedar Rapids

Ryan Balentine had a banner night for the Bemidji Axemen against Cedar Rapids, both on kick returns and with an impressive one-arm touchdown catch during Saturday’s game at the Sanford Center. Cedar Rapids, however, won 49-43 in Bemidji’s final home game of the season. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji Axemen couldn’t pull out a victory for Bemidji fans in their final home game of the 2014 season, but they sure gave them everything they could in an exciting finish.

A pair of late interceptions in a two minute span -- one by Bemidji’s Byron Best and another by Cedar Rapids’ Jereme Green -- turned the momentum of Saturday’s game two ways.

In the end it was Green’s interception, and subsequent 33-yard run back for a touchdown, that proved to be the dagger for the visiting Cedar Rapids Titans, as they knocked off the Axemen 49-43 at the Sanford Center.

“We made a lot of good plays but also gave up a lot of plays on both sides of the football,” Bemidji head coach Robert Fuller said. “But, I’m still very proud of the effort from our football team.”

With the loss, the Axemen fall to 5-8 on the season and extend their losing skid to four games. They travel to Green Bay next week to close out their inaugural IFL season.

The Titans, who have already clinched a playoff spot, improve to 10-3.

On Saturday the Axemen trailed the entire game but made it a one-possession contest with just more than eight minutes to go when Warren Matthews Jr.’s 4-yard touchdown run cut the Titans’ lead to 36-30.

After the ensuing kickoff the Axemen got a big boost from their defense when Best lept in front of a pass by Cedar Rapids quarterback Spencer Ohm to give Bemidji some hope with 6:30 to go.

It didn’t last.

Two minutes, 25 seconds later, Green picked off Axemen quarterback Joshua Aakre and ran it all the way back to sap all the momentum the Axemen may have had.

“Junk happens,” Aakre said. “The ball didn’t go where it was supposed to go, obviously, and they ran it back for a touchdown. That was tough to overcome, definitely.”

“We threw one, then were able to get one back,” Cedar Rapids head coach MarkSoute said. “We had to come back and the defense played great.

“We dropped into zone coverage since we knew they were kinda throwing it out the back side. We kinda took a gamble and jumped it… Green had a great pick.”

It was the second of two interceptions on the night for Green, and proved costly, as Matthews Jr. would score again on the ensuing drive.

However, with exactly two minutes on the clock it didn’t give the Axemen much time to respond.

The Titans scored one final time -- a 10-yard pass from Ohm to Carl Sims -- to effectively end the game.

“If we had another two hours we could have kept battling,” Askre said. “But we ran out of time. There’s a timer for a reason. We didn’t get it done.”

Aakre threw one final touchdown pass to David Lewis as time expired.

The teams were somewhat even offensively, with the Titans out gaining Bemidji 222-220.

Aakre finished with 15-27 passing for 161 yards and two touchdowns Matthews Jr. ran for 16 yards and two touchdowns while Aakre ran for 52 and also scored two touchdowns.

Ohm went 14-for-23 for 139 yards and three touchdowns.

Both quarterbacks were intercepted twice.

“We had a good balance of run-pass, but turnovers are what kills you,” Aakre said. “We didn’t take care of that job. You always want to come away with something you can improve on and that’s it for us.”

The Axemen travel to Green Bay next week looking to close out the season on a positive note. The Blizzard, now 1-11, beat Cedar Rapids last week for their first win of the season.

“We’re coaching a very resilient group of guys,” Fuller said. “It’s tough in some regard when you're not in the playoffs anymore but these guys have a lot to play for, and to their credit they played until the final whistle tonight.

“I expect them to do the same next weekend.”