INDOOR FOOTBALL: Slow start hurt Axemen in loss to Cedar Rapids
BEMIDJI — Falling behind early is never a good recipe in the Indoor Football League (IFL,) especially on the road.
Bemidji carved into the deficit and trailed by just a touchdown at halftime before eventually tying the game at 34-34 midway through the fourth quarter.
“Being down by 17 on the road is never how you want to start the game, but having a team that can battle back from that deficit in a hostile environment speaks volumes about the resolve of our football team,” Bemidji Axemen head coach Robert Fuller said. “You cannot start to press or let frustration take over in those situations.”
The Axemen made their comeback in the second half without starting quarterback Hunter Wanket, who left the game with a pulled muscle in the second quarter. Backup Joshua Aakre completed three of his ten passes for 31 yards including his first touchdown — a 13-yard pass to Nick Truesdell — of his IFL career in the second half.
“We have a lot of faith in Josh and we know he can lead this team when his number is called,” Fuller said. “He is very bright, very talented, and prepares each week like he is going to start for us.”
Fuller said he expects Wanket to be ready to play in the team’s next game at Wyoming on April 11.
Wanket was not the only Bemidji player forced out of the game with an injury. Cornerback Adam Lucas’ injury forced running back DeMario Pippen to play defense for a lot of the second half.
With a number of key players injured, the bye week comes at a good time for the Axemen.
“It will allow us to get a few guys healthy and will also give us some time to make some changes that will help our football team,” Fuller said. “DeMario did a great job of stepping in and doing whatever he could to try to help us win the game.”
Other bright spots in the loss included rushing touchdowns from both Pippen and Warren Matthews Jr., an interception returned for a touchdown by linebacker Jory Johnson, and three made field goals from former BSU kicker Zach Pulkinen in his IFL debut.
“Zach did a great job for his first ever experience kicking indoors,” Fuller said. “He has a strong leg and is a competitor. He jumped at the opportunity to help this team and we feel he is only going to get better.”
Including two preseason games, the loss was the third handed to Bemidji by Cedar Rapids this season.
“There is most definitely a rivalry growing there,” Fuller said. “That is going to happen when you play a team so many times, but for it to be a true rivalry, both teams need to win. Thankfully because of scheduling, we will have that opportunity a few more times this season.”
The two teams will meet twice more in the regular season, including another game in Cedar Rapids on April 19.