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INDOOR FOOTBALL: Axemen comeback attempt falls just short; Cedar Rapids wins 39-36

Bemidji Axemen quarterback Ryan Balentine (1) scrambles away from the Cedar Rapids Titans defense during the second quarter of Saturday night’s game at the Sanford Center. Jack Hittinger | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 4
Bemidji Axmen quarterback Ryan Balentine looks to pass during the second quarter of Saturday's game at the Sanford Center. Jack Hittinger | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 4
Bemidji Axemen linebacker Jory Johnson (28) defends a pass by Cedar Rapids Titans quarterback Sam Durley (17) during the second quarter of Saturday night's game at the Sanford Center. Jack Hittinger | Bemidji Pioneer3 / 4
Bemidji Axemen defensive lineman Dalton Etimani (12) hunts down Cedar Rapids Titans quarterback Sam Durley (17) during the second quarter of Saturday night's game at the Sanford Center. Jack Hittinger | Bemidji Pioneer4 / 4

BEMIDJI — The Bemidji Axemen came into Saturday’s game without much hope.

They were starting their third different quarterback of the season — wide receiver Ryan Balentine — and he was going up against the top defense in the Indoor Football League.

And although the Axemen performed well and hung with a tough Cedar Rapids Titans team, it wasn’t enough as the Titans won 39-36.

“We played a really good game and we could’ve won,” head coach Dixie Wooten said. “We just made mistakes when it hurt us the most and if we don’t do that then we’re on top.”

The Axemen had the ball with 43.1 seconds left and Balentine took two deep shots to the end zone, the second of which was intercepted to seal the deal.

The wide receiver-turned-quarterback completed 15-of-26 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown while also throwing two interceptions. He led the team in rushing with 69 yards and two scores.

“He did everything we asked of him and that’s what we love about him,” Wooten said. “I feel like we just let these guys off the hook today.”

With Balentine behind center, the Axemen needed someone else to step up the receiving end.

That man was Josh Jarboe who came down with nine receptions for 125 yards and a 21-yard touchdown to put the Axemen (2-5) up late.

“Jarboe comes to practice hard everyday,” Wooten said. “He told me he was going to step up and he did a great job.”

The Titans (5-2) did a great job of not kicking the ball to the IFL’s leading returner Mulku Kalokoh.

Kalokoh had one return for seven yards while also rushing for 22 yards and two scores.

“Yeah I thought I would get more today, but they didn’t kick me the ball,” Kalokoh said. “I’m going to try and switch it up next and switch sides hopefully I can help my team there.”

The Titans were led by Sam Durley who completed 15-of-26 passes for 172 and four touchdowns including the game-winning 26-yard score to Willie Carter.

Carter caught eight passes for 107 yards and two scores.

The Axemen will look to end their three-game losing streak, but it’ll on the road against a good Nebraska Danger team next Saturday.

“This team believes in each other,” Wooten said. “They are young so I think you give these guys another year and it’ll be a different season.”

Cedar Rapids 39, Bemidji 36

CR 7 14 7 11 — 39

BEM 13 3 7 13 — 36

1st Quarter: 2-yard touchdown run BEM (Kalokoh), 10:25. PAT Good (Pulkinen) 7-0 BEM; 26-yard touchdown pass CR (Durley to Carter), 9:12. PAT Good (Belmonte) 7-7; 1-yard touchdown run BEM (Balentine), 4:57. PAT No Good (Pulkinen) 13-7 BEM.

2nd Quarter: 40-yard field goal BEM (Pulkinen), 14:55. 16-7 BEM; 15-yard touchdown pass CR (Durley to Ealey), 8:54. PAT Good (Belmonte) 16-14; 12-yard touchdown pass CR (Durley to Pray), 1:41. PAT Good (Belmonte) 21-16 CR.

3rd Quarter: 1-yard touchdown run BEM (Balentine), 9:58. PAT Good (Pulkinen) 23-21 BEM; 9-yard touchdown run CR (Ealey), 5:20. PAT Good (Belmonte) 28-23 CR

4th Quarter: 2-yard touchdown run BEM (Kalokoh), 12:13. PAT Good (Pulkinen) 30-28 BEM; 23-yard field goal CR (Belmonte), 9:25. 31-30 CR; 21-yard touchdown pass BEM (Balentine to Jarboe), 2:20. 2 PAT No Good, 36-31 BEM; 26-yard touchdown pass CR (Durley to Carter), 53.6. 2 PAT Good (Durley to Carter) 39-36 CR

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