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AXEMEN FOOTBALL: Fuller takes responsibility for loss in Cedar Rapids

BEMIDJI -- Despite having a two-point lead and the ball with under a minute remaining, the Bemidji Axemen lost 60-57 to the Cedar Rapids Titans in Cedar Rapids Saturday.

Head coach Robert Fuller said his team played well enough to earn the comeback win and he takes responsibility for the loss.

"It was a very disappointing loss and I take full responsibility for it," Fuller said. "There were enough plays made by both teams on both sides of the ball to win or lose that game. Bottom line is that I needed to give us a better chance to succeed at the end."

Bemidji trailed 42-26 and did not regain the lead until midway through the fourth quarter.

"Our guys played really hard," Fuller said. "They did a great job of overcoming a deficit on the road by playing a very good second half."

The Axemen clinged to a 57-55 lead after a touchdown from Warren Matthews Jr. with 6:44 to play but Cedar Rapids held the ball for over six minutes to set up a go-ahead field goal attempt for Rockne Belmonte.

Belmonte, who had made two longer attempts earlier in the quarter, had his 20-yard attempt hit the right upright and fall to the ground.

Bemidji started the next possession at its own 5-yard-line with 29 seconds left, but the possession lasted just three plays and ended in a safety that tied the score at 57-57.

"In the IFL, single-digit leads are never safe, no matter how much time there is left," Fuller said. "I knew if they got the ball back it was unlikely he would miss another one. He is a great kicker."

Belmonte did not miss on his second attempt to sink the Axemen. A 10-yard passing play set Belmonte up for a 37-yard field goal as time expired.

The loss was a disappointment for the Axemen defense that did not allow a touchdown in the final 27 minutes after surrendering 49 points in the first 33 minutes.

"We blew a ton of assignments in the secondary in the first half, but everyone just settled down and focused on doing their own jobs," Fuller said. "Coach Wooten made a few adjustments, but it was more-so just talking through the game plan we already had in place."

The loss was no fault of quarterback Cody Kirby, who made his first start after being signed last week. He recovered nicely from an early interception by throwing for 292 yards and four touchdowns.

Perhaps the biggest asset of Kirby's game was his ability to make plays down the field as each of his four touchdowns were for more than 35 yards.

"Kirby performed pretty much like I thought he would," Fuller said of his new quarterback. "Most of his big plays were made under heavy duress from their defensive line. It shows his field awareness and play-making ability."

Matthews Jr. shouldered the rushing attack for the Axemen -- in the absence of DeMario Pippen and against the league's best run defense -- by running for 70 yards and three touchdowns.

"Warren rose to the challenge and did a very good job for us," Fuller said. "Not having DeMario was tough, but Warren is more than capable of shouldering the load and making plays for us."

Bemidji (3-4) will return home to the Sanford Center for the first time in over a month Friday to host the Green Bay Blizzard.