Tucson Sugar Skulls defensive back Micah Eugene Jr. shook his head and looked upset as he took a seat and waited by the interview area in a corridor within the Tucson Arena after the 55-41 loss Sunday to the Arizona Rattlers.
The first thought from this writer: Does he not want to be interviewed?
Eugene experienced some tough losses at LSU, including a 38-17 defeat at Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 2013 against No. 1 Alabama when the Tigers were 7-2 and ranked No. 10.
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A defeat in the Indoor Football League upsets him to that degree? He had to only be angry that he had to talk to reporters, right?
No. The loss was upsetting. That’s his competitive nature.
“It’s so bad … they can not play with us,” Eugene said, shaking his head again. “We hurt ourselves bad. They can not play with us.”
The Rattlers are 6-0 with two wins over the Sugar Skulls, who are 3-3. Eugene’s words of, “They can not play with us,” may not be the right way to put it but they have meaning.
Tucson Sugar Skulls WR Rico Brown said more than once his team lost to the Arizona Rattlers because of self-inflicted wounds (interceptions/field goal blocked). Same thing happened in Phoenix last month. Rattlers are 6-0 and Sugar Skulls 3-3. Is the gap that wide? pic.twitter.com/Yehh28qAqP
Sunday’s game was tied at 21 at halftime and it looked as though the Sugar Skulls could keep it close after the Rattlers took a 34-28 lead with 8:20 left in the third quarter on quarterback Jeff Ziemba’s fourth touchdown pass of the game.
Tucson placekicker Diego Marquez attempted a 51-yard field goal that was blocked by Chris McAllister and was recovered by Dillion Winfrey for a touchdown with 4:27 left in the third quarter to put the Rattlers ahead 42-28 after they converted on a fake point-after attempt with a run to the end zone by Jarrod Harrington.
Marquez had a rough day missing field goal attempts of 41 and 44 yards and not making an extra-point attempt. Those shortcomings plus two interceptions thrown by Jake Medlock proved to be costly.
“It was self-inflicted wounds with the turnovers,” said Tucson receiver Rico Brown, who finished with three catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns. “It wasn’t anything they did. It was all self-inflicted, really, when you come down to it at the end of the day.”
Medlock’s first interception, returned 45 yards for a touchdown by Phillip Henry, increased the Rattlers’ lead to 55-35 with 11:14 left in the fourth quarter.
One last gasp by Tucson ended with the other interception with 1:10 left in the game. The picks overshadowed Medlock’s three touchdown passes and three touchdown runs in the game.
“We’re killing ourselves with mistakes whether it be turnovers, blown assignments, not doing the right techniques on certain things,” Tucson coach Marcus Coleman said. “A lot of the scores we’ve given away this year is because of what we didn’t do, not necessarily because a team beat us.
“If we just had less talent and got beat and got outcoached than I wouldn’t have a problem with it. The fact that we’re making the mistakes and we’re killing ourselves, that is bothering me.”
The 14-point win was the closest for the Rattlers this season. The previous closest result was beating Sioux Falls 58-40 in Phoenix on March 31. The Rattlers entered the game with an average winning margin of 32 points (68.8 points to 36.8 for the opposition).
“This is our toughest game of the year so far,” said Rattlers coach Kevin Guy, who also owns the Sugar Skulls. “I think Tucson can play. I think they are two, three players away at certain spots. Coach Marcus I know will try to upgrade the roster.
“They’ll get better at those spots. It’s all about getting better down the backstretch.”
Tucson Sugar Skulls coach Marcus Coleman talks about his team playing the closest to the unbeaten Arizona Rattlers. The Rattlers, who won 55-41, had an average winning margin of 32 points (68.8 to 36.8). pic.twitter.com/cDJi9X2Fss
Coleman is not a proponent of moral victories but he did say the relatively close margin “shows that we can play with them.”
“We can matchup with them,” he said. “It’s just a matter of them being more consistent than we are throughout the entire game and not making the mistakes that we make.”
The game in microcosm for Tucson was Eugene’s acrobatic, flipping interception over the wall in the end zone in the first half that was nullified because of a penalty at the line of scrimmage.
Tucson Sugar Skulls DB Micah Eugene Jr., formerly of LSU, talks about the head-over-heels flipping INT over the wall in the end zone that was nullified by a penalty at the line of scrimmage. pic.twitter.com/DkiFP5vdYl
Not only did the spectacular play not count, Eugene later felt pain in his legs but he played through the discomfort.
“I ain’t going to lie, I got up like I wasn’t hurting because the adrenalin was going,” he said. “I flipped and I hit both my legs on the chair. Once we went into halftime I started feeling both of them, in my calves and in my Achilles.
“When they took it away, I was like, ‘Man …'”
“Like, man” describes the Sugar Skulls’ perturbed mindset after this loss, their second straight heading into a road game against Quad City (2-4) on Saturday.
“Just got to go back to work; can’t stop working just because you took a couple of L’s,” Coleman said. “You’ve got to keep working, so we’ll come back to work. We’ll get back into it.
“We will assess who or what we need to change and we’ll go from there.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.