Tucson Sugar Skulls coach Dixie Wooten believes that his team gained valuable experience from the loss at the Green Bay Blizzard in the season opener last Friday that it will apply to Sunday’s game at the Duke City Gladiators.
The Blizzard came into the game having already played four games. Tucson, as an organization, was playing its first game in two seasons because COVID-19 canceled operations last year.
The Sugar Skulls play their second game Sunday at 5:05 p.m. (Tucson time) at Duke City, which will play its home opener in Albuquerque.
Duke City, which made its Indoor Football League debut last Saturday, won on the road against the Iowa Barnstormers — Wooten’s former team — 63-55 in overtime.
Wooten broke down the three areas the Sugar Skulls need to fix going into the game against Duke City.
1. “Finish Ballgames”
“Make sure that we are on top at the end and finish ballgames,” Wooten said.
Demry Croft, a former Minnesota Golden Gopher quarterback, drove Tucson to the Green Bay 16 before the drive stalled at the 23-yard line in the waning seconds. His fourth-down pass in the end zone fell incomplete.
He completed 15 of 26 passing attempts for 160 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, and rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown in his first game with Tucson.
The Sugar Skulls were outscored 22-8 in the second half in the 42-36 loss.
2. “Growth of young players”
“Secondly, is the growth of our young players, especially our young quarterback,” Wooten said. “We got a lot of young guys that have never played the indoor game before. Also, made sure my guys are ready for football situational things that come from the game. So, we got a lot out of it. We’re gonna have a lot of growth from week one to week two.”
The Sugar Skulls committed 12 penalties that amounted to 91 yards.
Player development is essential and running back Mike Jones is an example of how much the Sugar Skulls can improve from week one to week two.
Jones, who earned All-IFL first-team honors in his rookie season with Sugar Skulls in 2019, rushed for 38 yards on 11 carries and had one touchdown, and had three catches for 26 yards at Green Bay.
3. “Coaches putting players in better situations”
“Third, is to get better as a coaching staff to make sure that we put our guys in a better situation,” Wooten said.
Penalties are a part of that and so is a generally understanding of the gameplan and play calls.
“Making sure we understand where we line up, make sure we understand what we have to do to be successful,” Wooten said. “You know, football is a Chinese arithmetic, so we gotta make sure we do what we do the right way.”
Kent Shelby II was Croft’s top target against the Blizzard, catching five passes for 67 yards and one touchdown.
Former Utah Utes standout Corey Butler-Byrd recovered two fumbles and forced another against the Blizzard in his first game as a member of the Sugar Skulls. He now leads the IFL in fumble recoveries and is tied for the IFL lead in forced fumbles, along with Santa Rita and Pima College graduate Cam Gaddis and TT Barber.
Gaddis suffered three broken ribs and a collapsed lung before returning to finish the game against Green Bay. He will be inactive for Sunday’s game.
Gaddis and Barber both had five tackles to lead the team in that category against Green Bay.
After one game, the Sugar Skulls defense is fifth in the league in points allowed per game (42), and third in the league in yards allowed per game (152).
Duke City’s quarterback Nate Davis, who threw for 228 yards and seven touchdowns in the game, leads the IFL in passing yards per game, completion percentage and quarterback efficiency.
The Sugar Skulls home opener at the Tucson Convention Center is Saturday at 6:05 p.m. against Iowa and will be played in front of 100-percent crowd capacity (the TCC seats 9,275).
In three seasons with the Barnstormers, Wooten was named IFL Coach of the Year twice, won the 2018 United Bowl championship, and finished the 2019 regular season with a 12-2 record before he joined the Sugar Skulls as head coach and general manager after the 2019 season.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. He has an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts from Pima Community College where he wrote for the Pima Post (formerly the Aztec Press). He is currently attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he is working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.