In place of last week’s Weekly Run-down, it is my joy to bring a recap of the Tucson Sugar Skulls home opener that took place this past Saturday night, April 9th. This week I will resume work on the Weekly Run-down on Thursday in which I will briefly recap the last week games and the standard set of games per article. Without further ado, I am very pleased to bring this recap to KAMP.
On Saturday, April 9th, the Tucson Sugar Skulls and San Diego Strike Force of the IFL were set to take the field in the home opener for the Sugar Skulls at the Tucson Arena. Tucson came into the game 1-1, having won their first game in Vegas two weeks prior but dropping a match in Frisco, Texas against the Fighters 56-34 on April 1st. San Diego, on the other hand, started their year 0-3, their games rather uncompetitive with their last time out a tough 45-28 loss to the Northern Arizona Wranglers in Prescott on April 2nd. In the head-to-head match-up, Tucson was undefeated, 4-0 against the Strike Force and seeking to go 5-0. Tucson had reason to be optimistic, with their wide receiver Arthur Jackson standing high in the league, topping it in receptions, touchdowns, receptions per game, and receiving yards per game entering the game. The Sugar Skulls donned their black uniforms while San Diego sported their whites. At 6:05 pm MST, it was time for kickoff.
To start the game, Tucson won the coin toss but deferred possession until the second half. Once the ball was in the air, the clock would run until timeouts or setting the ball for a kickoff occurred. Starting fast, the Strike Force pushed downfield, with QB Steve Cluley finding Rashad Ross from 22 yards out. A PAT later and San Diego was on top 7-0 with 11:18 left. Tucson would respond fast as QB Daquan Neal found Arthur Jackson from 33 yards out to even the score with 9:19 left. On their next possession, San Diego would make it 10-7 on a 31-yard field goal by K Tanner Kuljian (6:10). With 5:23 left in the quarter, Tucson RB Mike Jones broke off a 23-yard TD run, but the failed extra point only made it 13-10. San Diego responded with a methodical drive as Steve Cluley found WR Troy Evans from just 4 yards out to take a 16-13 lead after another missed extra point (1:37). Before the quarter ended, Daquan Neal found WR Carrington Thompson on a 17-yard TD pass, the Sugar Skulls now up 20-16. With one quarter down, it seemed a shootout was brewing.
Opening up the 2nd quarter with possession, San Diego drove down the field quickly to make it 23-20 with 13:13 left on a Cluley-Ross 19-yard TD connection. The Sugar Skulls pushed back with a quick and efficient drive capped off by a 1-yard Mike Jones and missed PAT to make it 26-23 (11:01). Cluley orchestrated another efficient drive as Troy Evans hauled in a 5-yard TD pass to retake the lead 30-26 (7:06). On the next drive, Tucson drove down the field to take the lead again 33-30 on a 10-yard Mike Jones run. For the first time the entire game, the defense made a stop and Tucson retook possession, scoring on a 17-yd TD pass from Neal to Thompson to make the lead 40-30 with five seconds left in the half. Entering the half, the fans in attendance hoped their team could get a grip on the game.
After an explosive first half, the 3rd quarter would be quite a bit calmer. San Diego would make a mark on Tucson’s first possession as DB David Haney picked off Daquan Neal and took it back 13 yards for a score to make it a closer 40-37 ballgame (13:48). There would only be two more scores in this quarter, as with 12:22 left Mike Jones broke off a 33-yd TD run, the PAT being blocked to make the lead extension 46-37. Both offenses would stall until 5:13 was left in the quarter as Daquan Neal took the ball himself into the end zone from 2 yards out to make the game 53-37, a 13-point lead.
After a hard-fought 3rd, the 4th would become a nightmare for Tucson, a slow developing one. To start, San Diego would use WR Travon Van as a running back, handing the ball to him on a 4-yd score but failing to convert a 2-point attempt, the game now 53-43 with 13:30. On their next drive, Tucson drove downfield and had Mike Jones slip his way in for a 1-yd score to extend the lead to 60-43 (11:25). The Sugar Skull defense would hold off a Strike Force 4th down conversion attempt by the goal line, but pushed to their backs, Tucson was forced to take a safety, making it 60-45 with 8:59 left. With possession, San Diego let Travon Van find the end zone from 7 yards out, successfully converting the 2-pt attempt to make it 60-53, a one score game. Tucson RB Ben Jones attempted to carry the team as he returned the following kickoff across the field, 50 yards, with a missed extra point to make it 66-53 (6:00). Despite his best efforts, the defense was left to try and hold off San Diego. An efficient drive later, Travon Van found the end zone for the third time from 4 yards out, the extra point making it 66-60. Tucson’s offense stalled and was forced to give the ball up to the Strike Force, the crowd now realizing the momentum was no longer in their hands. The Strike Force, gifted a short field, pushed down, using a poorly timed pass interference call to use their last timeout with 2 seconds left on the Tucson 6-yard line. Steve Cluley, having good protection, found Rashad Ross in the end zone. An extra point converted and it was over as the clock struck 0:00. The Strike Force pulled the comeback and upset the Sugar Skulls 67-66.
The result was a disastrous one, the mood low in the arena as it emptied post-game. Despite the best efforts of the offense, the defense had been outplayed by the Strike Force offense, one of the worst in the league entering the game. In the post-game press conference, head coach and GM Dixie Wooten made it clear that this game was not a learning experience, setting the tone that if the players want to keep their places, they need to tighten up and make the plays they are expected to. If they’re to try to make a playoff run, they can’t afford to give up the second most points in a game in franchise history. After all, if you’re surrendering points in droves, setting the team record for highest single game score is nothing. The press conference segment with Coach Wooten is below.
After this result, Tucson is now 1-2 on the year and will have to look to end their two-game losing streak this coming Saturday, April 16th when they play the Duke City Gladiators on the road in Albuquerque, New Mexico. San Diego, having snapped their losing streak, now stands at 1-3 on the year and they’ll continue their road trip in Phoenix as they’ll play the 4-0 Arizona Rattlers this Friday, the 15th.
Cover Image and Video Credit: Daniel Cervantes, KAMP Student Radio