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IFL: Bay Area Panthers Dominate Sugar Skulls in Tucson Home Opener - 4/14/24

Updated: Apr 17

Cover image: Bay Area Panthers QB Daquan Neal drops back and winds up to connect with Jazeric Peterson for a 43-yard touchdown early in the Bay Area-Tucson match on Sunday. Daniel Cervantes, KAMP Student Radio

           This Sunday afternoon, IFL football returned to Tucson for the fifth season as the Sugar Skulls played host to the Bay Area Panthers in their home opener at the Tucson Arena. Tucson entered their home opener with a solid 1-1 record, their last match a 56-49 win on the road against the Duke City Gladiators, a result that notched QB Mylik Mitchell IFL Week 4 Offensive Player of the Week honors. Bay Area meanwhile entered 2-0, their last game a dominant 48-24 blowout victory on the road against the Jacksonville Sharks.

            Early on, defense was the name of the game. The first quarter saw both teams trade scores, with the Panthers outscoring the Sugar Skulls 14-10 in the first frame, accentuated by a 43-yard TD connection between Daquan Neal and Jazeric Peterson. For those in attendance, it seemed it would be a back-and-forth duel, a thought that would be shattered by a second quarter dominated by defense. Neither team scored a single point in the second quarter, with Bay Area blocking a field goal and Tucson making a clutch fourth-down stop to keep the score at 14-10 in favor of the Panthers entering the half. At the half, Panthers head coach Rob Keefe made the decision to insert Felix Harper at QB, taking over from Neal who had barely gone 2/6 for 52 yards and a touchdown in the first half alongside three carries for 41 yards.

            In the third quarter, Bay Area began to assert themselves and gain crucial separation, outscoring the Sugar Skulls 21-7 in the frame, their defense beginning to clamp down and forcing a failed fourth down conversion while the offense fired on all cylinders. Harper made key plays when he needed to, including a 30-yard touchdown connection to JT Stokes to end the quarter in a response to a Tucson TD, depriving the Sugar Skulls of much-needed momentum. Early in the fourth, Tyrone Cromwell III picked off Mitchell to help stifle the Sugar Skulls at a crucial point in the game. Although Tucson outscored the Panthers 14-9 in the final quarter, the hole to climb out of was too deep, especially as an onside kick attempt midway through the quarter failed, in the end giving the Panthers crucial field position to get to their final point total of 44. In the end, the Panthers rode out with their undefeated season alive with a dominant 44-31 victory.

            Bay Area’s Harper ended the afternoon 8/11 with 93 yards, a passing touchdown, six carries for 18 yards, and three ground touchdowns, a key part of the Panthers’ victory. Meanwhile, for Tucson, Mitchell ended his day with a rough 10/21, 117-yard, 1 TD to 3 INT stat line in the air while picking up 49 yards and a touchdown on the ground over eight carries. A crucial stat here is the fact he was sacked four times, all in crucial parts of drives that helped the Panthers stymie the Sugar Skull offense. In contrast, neither Panther QB was sacked, with both largely avoiding pressure for the course of the game, a testament to the strong performance of their offensive line. Bay Area’s top receiver was Jazeric Peterson as he tallied 51 yards and a TD on two receptions while CJ Tate led the way for Tucson in receiving with 43 yards and a TD on a pair of receptions.

            Looking ahead, the Panthers will head back home to the SAP Center in San Jose as they’ll take on the San Diego Strike Force this coming Saturday, April 20th. As for the Sugar Skulls, they’ll be looking to rebound on the road as they’ll take on the San Antonio Gunslingers this Thursday, the 18th, before coming back to Tucson on April 27th to take on the Northern Arizona Wranglers.

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