Tucson Sugar Skulls

Tucson Sugar Skulls Suffer First Loss, 63-28 to Rival Arizona Rattlers

The Tucson Sugar Skulls experienced their first loss in their inaugural season on Saturday night, losing 63-28 to the rival Arizona Rattlers, who are coached by the same person who owns them.

Sugar Skulls owner Kevin Guy coached the Rattlers to the convincing win at the Talking Stick Resort Arena, a game in which the Rattlers averaged 10.4 yards per play. Arizona also took advantage of three miscues by Tucson deep in its territory — A blocked field goal and two fumbles — scoring a touchdown after each.

When asked by members of The CW broadcast about what it was like to coach against the team he owns, Guy said: “To be frank, to me, it was just another game. I have to do what’s best for the Rattlers and (Tucson) Coach (Marcus) Coleman does what’s best for their team.”

Matt Behrendt (16) started the game at QB for Tucson but was later replaced by Jake Medlock (The CW telecast screen shot)

Guy said his team was fortunate with the turnovers and commented that Tucson playing without defensive lineman Keith Jones Jr. (death in the family) was difficult for the Sugar Skulls to overcome.

The Sugar Skulls (2-1) will not play next weekend. They return to the Tucson Arena on March 31 to play San Diego (0-3).

Coleman went back to playing both quarterbacks — Matt Behrendt and Jake Medlock — after exclusively playing Behrendt last week in a 62-42 win over Bismarck. Behrendt had eight touchdown passes against the Bucks but struggled against the Rattlers before Medlock replaced him in the third quarter.

Behrendt completed 6 of 14 passes for 37 yards. He also fumbled in the first quarter that led to a Rattlers touchdown. Medlock was 6 of 12 for 56 yards and a touchdown.

Coleman mentioned last week that he and offensive coordinator Hurtis Chinn will alternate players week to week depending on who they believe will help the team the most. They also made the move to playing running back Mike Jones (the starter in the opener at San Diego) again instead of Shad Thornton, who had 82 yards on 16 carries last week against Bismarck.

Mike Jones finished with 63 yards on nine carries with two touchdowns against the Rattlers.

“We had some fortunate things happen with the turnovers. We have to keep working, keep building,” Guy said. “We got stronger as the game went on. The good thing for Tucson is they know where they’re at now. They know what they have to do with who they play. There’s a long season ahead of both of us.”

Without Keith Jones Jr. anchoring the Sugar Skulls’ defensive line, Rattlers quarterback Verlon Reed Jr. executed freely, passing for three touchdowns and running for two more. Jabre Lolley also had two touchdown runs, including a 25-yard burst as part of his 61 yards on 11 carries.

Lolley also led the Rattlers with two catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.

Tucson looked promising early scoring on its second drive, going 45 yards on six plays, culminating with a 2-yard touchdown run by Mike Jones to take a 7-0 lead with 4:35 left in the first quarter. The Sugar Skulls also had a defensive stop on the Rattlers’ first drive, but Arizona went on to score on nine straight possessions to pull away.

Three of them were aided by Tucson — a blocked field goal attempt by Diego Marquez that was recovered in the end zone by Dillion Winfrey that gave Arizona a 14-7 lead, a fumble by Behrendt on the next possession that was recovered at the Tucson 7, resulting in a 3-yard touchdown run by Reed, and a fumble on a kickoff return by Nigel Bethel that was recovered at the Sugar Skulls’ 5 resulting in a 3-yard Lolley TD run that increased the Rattlers’ lead to 63-21 in the fourth quarter.

Behrendt managed to cut the Rattlers’ lead to 21-14 on a 16-yard touchdown run with 8:26 left in the second quarter, but that was the Sugar Skulls’ only offensive highlight until Mike Jones ran it in from 11 yards with 38 seconds left in the third quarter. By that time, the Rattlers led 49-21.

A 22-yard pass from Medlock to Jarid Brown with 4:42 left in the fourth quarter was Tucson’s last touchdown.

“I don’t know if I agree it was easy,” Guy said. “We were down seven. The turnovers are what changed the game on their side of the field.

“After the game, I told Coach Coleman, ‘Hey look you know where you’re at. You know the moves you have to make.’ Conditioning is name of game this early in the season. We’re ahead at that this point, I believe. … Both coaching staffs are still feeling out their teams.”

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