CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – In between the third and fourth quarters, fans attending the Cedar Rapids Titans' home opener had a chance to win a prize if they could throw a mini-rubber football onto the bulls-eye on the field. As the turf began to clutter with the footballs, the Titans Dolls put them into baskets.
In the process of clearing the field, the official's bean bag, which marks the spot of the ball, also got picked up.
Safe to say the organization is still working the kinks out, which applies to the on-field product as well.
The Titans (1-0) turned the ball over three times, missed two field goals, had three botched snaps, yet they got through it, holding on for a 41-31 win over Chicago (0-1) Saturday night.
No one had more rust on them than quarterback Charles McCullum.
"I hadn't played in a year and half, but who's counting? I am." McCullum said. "But yeah, once we knocked the rust off, we settled down and our team kept pushing."
McCullum took a half to adjust to life back on the field, after sitting out all of last year with an ankle injury. He completed 7 of 18 passes in the first half, with two interceptions. He rebounded in the second half completing 7 of 9 passes for 66 yards and four touchdowns. Overall he added another touchdown on the ground on one of his nine carries for 53 yards.
The highlight though came through the air. in the second half. Titans receiver Desmond Tardy caught a 34 yard touchdown by leaping over the padding and into the stands. He fell on an advertisement sign, but held onto the ball pushing his team's lead to 27-18.
"Wooooooo, I want to give a shout out to Tardy, that's my main man," McCullum said. "He goes over the ball and catches the ball like no one I've ever seen before."
McCullum may not have seen anything like it before, but Tardy knew he had it in him.
"He better caught it. He told me in the huddle, 'Throw it. Throw it.' I threw it, he caught it, touchdown," McCullum said.
The sterling finish overshadowed the rusty beginning.
The Titans went into the locker room down 12-7, committing three turnovers and two of their three botched snaps. They had 97 of offense and just 35 through the air on 18 attempts.
"Offensively we just needed to settle down. We were pressing. We had some plays that were there and we were almost trying too hard to get to those plays," Titans head coach Mark Stoute said. "...I was a little emotional at halftime. I think I lit a few fires."
The fire directly ignited the offense, not so much in the boxscore but on the scoreboard. Cedar Rapids gained 102 yards in the second half. It was just five more yards than the first half, but it translated into 34 points.
"It was like an oiled machine. Once you get an oiled machine, rolling, it's going to keep rolling," McCullum said. "Once you knock the rust off, it'll work forever."
The defense held up enough until the offense finally clicked. Its first big stop came inside the one in the second quarter, right before halftime, preventing Chicago to go up two scores. It also came through in the fourth quarter on a 4th and 3 opportunity for the Slaughter, stopping running back Daniel DuFrene short of the marker.
Special teams also picked up the slack recovering an onside kick and T.J. Simmons took a deflected kick 49 yards for a touchdown.
Some might look the two halves as a negative, but for now, the Titans can say it's just complementary football.
"Defense had our back in the first half and we came back and had their back in the second half," McCullum said. "That's how football goes. It's a team sport."