The Tucson Sugar Skulls showed signs of resilience on offense, but it wasn’t enough in a 44-34 road loss against in-state rival and perennial powerhouse, the Arizona Rattlers, on Saturday.
After being down 16-0 at the end of the first quarter, Demry Croft and the Sugar Skulls came to life on offense in the following two quarters and eventually took a 34-30 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Rattlers then scored 14 unanswered points to close out the game and seal the victory.
The Rattlers are coached by Tucson’s co-owner Kevin Guy, and are now 5-0 in the series against Tucson since the Sugar Skulls’ inaugural season in 2019.
Arizona wasted no time on offense after receiving the opening kickoff, with quarterback Drew Powell scoring on a 13-yard touchdown scramble on the fourth play of the drive.
On the Sugar Skulls’ ensuing possession, Croft was called for intentional grounding on a pass from Tucson’s end zone that never reached the line of scrimmage which resulted in a safety.
Powell eventually bulldozed into the end zone on a 8-yard run the next possession, giving Arizona a 16-0 lead with under five minutes to go in the first quarter.
Then Croft and the Sugar Skulls started trading blows with Powell and the Rattlers’ pesky offensive attack. Tucson finished the quarter scoring on the last three possessions, and TT Barber blocked an Arizona field goal in the closing seconds of the first half.
The Rattlers held on to a 30-20 advantage over the Sugar Skulls at the break.
The Sugar Skulls continued the offensive barrage they started in the second quarter when Croft found Jazeric Peterson on an 11-yard touchdown reception on the first possession of the third quarter.
Tucson’s defense forced its first and only turnover on downs against the Rattlers on the ensuing possession. Mike Jones then scored on a 16-yard rushing touchdown the next possession to give the Sugar Skulls their final touchdown and only lead of the game at 34-30 over the Rattlers.
The Rattlers would go on to own the fourth quarter, scoring two touchdowns, forcing a turnover on downs, and intercepting Croft on the Sugar Skulls’ second-to-last possession of the game.
Croft completed 12 of 20 passing attempts for 142 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He rushed for 61 yards on 11 carries and had one touchdown.
Shelby II and Peterson were Croft’s top targets, both catching three passes. Shelby II finished with 41 yards and a touchdown while Peterson had 33 yards and touchdown.
Jones rushed for 25 yards on five carries and had a touchdown. He also had two catches for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Tucson coach Dixie Wooten said the Sugar Skulls are on the road to improving after starting the season 1-3.
“The only thing you can do is go up,” said Wooten. “We’re 1-3, and we’ve played in three road games and one home game. We don’t have any bye weeks and people are beat up, but at the end of the day, every game we lost it was because of something we did to ourselves.
“So I think right now as a coach, I’m going to look back on these four games, see what type of pieces we need to bring in … and get my young quarterback ready, so we can go out fighting.”
The Sugar Skulls play Saturday against the Massachusetts Pirates (3-3) at the Tucson Convention Center. Kickoff is at 6:05 p.m.
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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 is currently attending Pima Community College where he writes for the Aztec Press. Next semester he will be attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he will work towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.