More than a half-hour after Tucson lost once again to the Arizona Rattlers on Saturday night, many of the Sugar Skulls were still in uniform on the Tucson Arena turf talking to fans and signing autographs.
The season-long postgame routine with the fans has not subsided. The support has remained strong in Tucson’s inaugural season. A crowd of 4,828 showed up for the Rattlers’ 62-47 win, their third win over the Sugar Skulls this season.
It was Tucson’s largest attendance since the season opener, when the Sugar Skulls had 5,198 in the stands for a 62-42 win over Bismarck on March 10. Tucson’s average attendance is at 4,170, second in the Indoor Football League behind the well-established Rattlers, who average a crowd of 13,432 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.
"We got bullied" by the Arizona Rattlers, says Tucson Sugar Skulls QB Jake Medlock, whose team is 0-3 against their rival from Phoenix. pic.twitter.com/dMrUhnu4K4
When asked what a playoff appearance in Tucson’s first season would mean to him, quarterback Jake Medlock said, “It would mean a lot to this community. Tucson fans have shown up every week, every home game. They’ve done a great job.
“They fill the stands. They deserve it more. It’s all about finishing games and getting ready to go.”
Tucson’s final two regular season games — at Talking Stick Resort Arena against the Rattlers in two weeks and at home against Quad City on June 15 — will have atmospheres much better than IFL locales such as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Grand Island, Neb.
Good amount of fans here well after the game still talking to the Sugar Skulls and getting autographs. pic.twitter.com/BNTCPNybJS
The Nebraska Danger is somehow surviving despite averaging only 357 fans a game. It’s a fact. Check the IFL Web site. Cedar Rapids is drawing only 1,212 fans a game. Fellow expansion team San Diego has an average attendance of only 1,799.
Without a Triple-A baseball team in Tucson, fans have the Sugar Skulls and soccer team FC Tucson to support this time of year. The Sugar Skulls’ popularity should grow in future years with Kevin Guy as the owner. Guy is also the coach of the 11-0 Rattlers. He knows how to assemble talent suited for the IFL.
An example: Rattlers quarterback Drew Powell, who led the Iowa Barnstormers to a United Bowl championship last year, was acquired earlier this month after he was released from the Arena Football League. He is the reigning IFL Most Valuable Player. Guy snatched him before anybody else could to strengthen his championship bid against teams like Iowa (11-1) and Sioux Falls (9-2).
Powell was near-perfect in the win over Tucson on Saturday night, completing 13 of 15 passes for 180 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 83 yards on eight carries with two touchdowns.
“Beyond the physical things that he has, and all of his athleticism, in his mind he plays like and he feels like he’s the best player in the room without a doubt,” Tucson coach Marcus Coleman said. “Until we get some guys to adopt some of that, we’re always going to struggle or it’s always going to be uphill.
“Particularly as the quarterback, when you have that mindset and you play like it, naturally everybody follows.”
What would making the @IndoorFtballLge playoffs in the Tucson Sugar Skulls' first season mean to QB Jake Medlock? "It would mean a lot to this community. Tucson fans have shown up … They deserve it more." pic.twitter.com/svjT2VMNj5
Medlock’s game did not pale in comparison to Powell’s with also five touchdowns and no interceptions. He completed 18 of 30 passes for 156 yards and led the Sugar Skulls in rushing with 54 yards on 11 carries.
Respectable numbers. Powell has the aura with his teammates of being the league MVP to go with his stats. Medlock acknowledged returning to the playoffs for the first time in three years “would mean a lot to me.”
His top target Saturday, playmaking receiver Jeremiah Harris, caught a team-record nine passes for 88 yards with two touchdowns.
Tucson Sugar Skulls coach Marcus Coleman needs a win either over Arizona or Quad City in the last two games to have a shot at the IFL playoffs in the first year of the franchise. pic.twitter.com/pe3a5NAjsF
Harris was also a midseason acquisition, released from the Arena Football League, who helped Tucson win three straight games before the loss to the Rattlers.
He was not part of the other two losses this season to the Rattlers, but he sounded frustrated just the same.
“I mean, I feel like we’re right there with them, talent-wise and ability-wise,” Harris said. “They don’t got no superstars. It’s a team sport. Everybody has to play as one.”
That “team” will include the Tucson fans in the game against Quad City. The Sugar Skulls will need them with their playoff push.
Quad City (5-7) plays Bismarck (2-9) in two weeks before coming to Tucson, which is in fifth place in the IFL standings at 6-6. Quad City and Nebraska — teams that have defeated Tucson — are a game behind the Sugar Skulls.
Nebraska must play at Iowa to end the season after playing beatable San Diego (1-11) in two weeks.
Unless Tucson can upset Arizona in two weeks, the Sugar Skulls will be 6-7, likely sharing that record with Quad City, when they play in a playoff-type atmosphere at Tucson Arena trying to finish in the top six qualifying spots.
“To get in the playoffs our first year will be like a building block,” Coleman said. “It’s a step in the right direction to show that we’re at least on the right track, trying to achieve that goal of getting to the United Bowl.
“As an organization, hopefully it brings the city out a little bit more so we can get more people at the games like we did tonight, get more sponsors and more support for the organization.”
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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.