The Tucson Sugar Skulls held an 11-point lead going into the fourth quarter on Saturday night at Tucson Arena before losing to the Northern Arizona Wranglers 34-32.
While the Tucson defense had its best performance of the season, holding the Wranglers to 34 points, the usually explosive offense faltered and then faded in the fourth quarter.
Tucson was up 32-28 with 11:54 remaining in the game when the Wranglers recovered a fumble from Sugar Skulls quarterback Daquan Neal on the Northern Arizona 5-yard line.
On the next possession, Northern Arizona kicker Brandon Fischer got the Wranglers within one point of Tucson with a 21-yard field goal with 6:02 remaining.
The Sugar Skulls then took over on the Northern Arizona 15-yard line after the ensuing onside kick went out of bounds, but the Wranglers stalled the Tucson offense at the 9-yard line, forcing a turnover on downs.
On the next and final drive of the game, Northern Arizona drove down the field before Sugar Skulls defensive lineman Tony Winslow was flagged for roughing the passer.
The critical penalty moved Northern Arizona further into Sugar Skulls territory before Fischer put the nail in the Skulls’ coffin, kicking a 24-yard field goal to put the Wranglers up 34-32 with three seconds on the clock.
“We just gotta execute,” Tucson head coach Dixie Wooten said. “We fumbled on the goal line, and then we don’t score on the last drive. We just gotta execute, simple as that.”
As Tucson enters the bye week, Wooten is looking at making some personnel changes.
“At the end of the day, when we come back next week, we’re going to have a few new faces in here, and it’s gonna be a whole different type of atmosphere. We can’t allow that type of situation to happen. That’s nonsense. You know, we were playing a great football game, and for us to do it on a penalty like that, that’s unreal. “
At halftime, Tucson held a 26-15 lead on four rushing touchdowns, three from running back Mike Jones and one from Neal.
Neal completed 8 of 15 pass attempts for 124 yards and one touchdown. He rushed for 22 yards on 6 carries and had one touchdown.
Jones rushed for 37 yards on 10 carries and had three touchdowns.
Tucson wide receiver Carrington Thompson had two receptions for 28 yards with one touchdown.
Defensive back Robert Rolle had one interception in his first game of the season with the Sugar Skulls.
Defensive back Mike Minter also had an interception.
Tucson’s two interceptions on Saturday matched its season total coming into the game.
The Tucson Sugar Skulls (5-5) play Saturday, June 11, against the Bay Area Panthers (1-8) at Tucson Arena. 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. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. 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.