The Tucson Sugar Skulls gave up a two-touchdown fourth quarter lead, falling to the San Diego Strike Force in a heartbreaking 51-44 double overtime thriller on Saturday evening at Tucson Arena.
“It’s unfortunate. It hurts. It doesn’t feel good. But we’ll bounce back from it,” first-year Sugar Skulls head coach Hurtis Chinn said after the loss. “We had a lot of misfortune, a lot of missed opportunities, had the game in our hands multiple times and couldn’t come up with a win.”
Tucson was up 37-31 with seven seconds remaining in regulation when San Diego quarterback Rudy Johnson heaved a 46-yard hail mary to the end zone that careened off the hands of Carrington Thompson and Mike Minter into the hands of San Diego wide receiver Kendrez Bell in the end zone with no time on the clock.Before the play, Chinn had specifically warned the defenders to bat the ball down.
“You tell them that the whole timeout. From the whole timeout from the whole process of huddling them up,” he said. “We put a receiver (Thompson) back there to actually do that job as someone came in (Minter), in the way of that job, but that was the thought process going into it.”
After an unsportsmanlike penalty moved the PAT attempt back to the 25-yard line, Tucson used a timeout to ice San Diego kicker Aedan Johnson. He would miss the extra point and the game would go to overtime tied at 37-37.Tucson won the coin toss, and opted to take the ball from 20-yard line first.
After methodically moving the ball down field, it was Tucson running back Mike Jones with a 2-yard touchdown run that put Tucson up 44-37.
The Strike Force followed up Tucson’s possession with a drive that ended up with Edward Vander scoring a 2-yard touchdown run of his own that tied the game at 44-44.
San Diego got the ball first in the second overtime. It took a few plays before Marques Rodgers caught a 17-yard touchdown reception to put the Strike Force up 51-44.
The Sugar Skulls (3-1) had an opportunity to send the game into a third overtime on a 4th-and-goal from the five yard line. The San Diego defense broke up the play, forcing Atkins to scramble.
He was tackled short of the end zone at the 2-yard-line.
“I had an over-and-under read, their defense kind of just sank and my O-line formed a pocket for me, created a hole,” Atkins said. “I was one-on-one with their linebacker, and he just bested me that time.”
With 10:14 to go in the fourth quarter, Atkins found Thompson for a 5-yard touchdown reception that extended Tucson’s lead to 37-23. It was Tucson’s largest lead of the game.
The Sugar Skulls defense forced a fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, but Bell caught a pass in the back of the end zone to close the gap for San Diego to 37-29 after a missed extra point.
San Diego would score a deuce on the following kickoff to trim the Tucson lead to 37-31 with 4:30 remaining. A deuce occurs in the IFL when a kickoff goes through the opposing team’s uprights, resulting in two points.
As Tucson threatened to extend its lead, Jones fumbled on the San Diego 4-yard line, and the Strike Force recovered with 1:15 to go in the game, leading to San Diego’s game-tying drive at the end of regulation.
On the game’s second play, Atkins found Dylan Person for a 19-yard touchdown reception to put Tucson up 7-0.
The Tucson defense held up strong on San Diego’s first drive, holding Strike Force kicker Aedan Johnson to a 31-yard field goal.
On Tucson’s following possession, Tucson went for it on fourth and goal from the 12-yard line, and San Diego’s Shawn Shamburger intercepted Atkins, leading the Strike Force to take over from its 5-yard line.
After a quarter, The Sugars Skulls were up 7-3.
San Diego methodically drove the ball down the field before San Diego running back Zander put it in from the 1-yard line to the Strike Force its first lead of the game at 10-7 with 12:09 left in the second quarter.
At the 9:05 mark in the second quarter, Tucson threatened to score from San Diego’s 6-yard line when an errant snap in shotgun formation went through Atkins’ legs. San Diego recovered on the 25-yard line.
San Diego added to its lead with a 27-yard field goal from Johnson, putting the Strike Force up 13-7 with 6:11 left in the second quarter..
On Tucson’s next possession, Atkins fumbled on a scramble on San Diego’s 19-yard line, and the Strike Force recovered. Johnson nailed a 34-yard field goal with just under a minute left in the first half.
Jones had a 1-yard rushing touchdown with seven seconds on the clock to cut the deficit for Tucson, who went into halftime down 16-14.
Tucson’s defense held San Diego to a 40-yard field goal attempt on the second half’s opening possession. Johnson would miss the kick, and the Sugar Skulls took over on its 5-yard line.
Then it was San Diego’s turn to come up big, holding Tucson to a four-and -out.
Rudy Johnson would then find Rodgers on a 10-yard touchdown pass a few plays later, and at the 8:57 mark of the third quarter, San Diego held a 23-14 lead.
The Sugar Skulls then came to life on offense.
Tucson scored its longest touchdown of the night on its next possession when Atkins found Thompson on a 36-yard touchdown reception. The Sugar Skulls would convert a two-point conversion when Atkins connected with Person to cut San Diego’s lead to 23-22 with 6:32 remaining in the third quarter.
Tucson’s defense came up big yet again, holding San Diego to a 46-yard field goal that Johnson pulled wide right on the Strike Force’s next possession.
In the last play of the third quarter, Thompson caught a 15-yard reception on San Diego’s 20-yard line. A roughing the passer penalty on the Strike Force moved the ball up to the 10-yard line.
Mike Jones would run it in from the 1-yard line, and a successful two-point conversion reception to MJ Harris that followed put the Sugar Skulls up 30-23 at the 12:24 mark in the fourth quarter.
Carlos Thompson would fumble on the ensuing kickoff to San Diego, and after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Strike Force, Tucson took over on the San Diego 8-yard-line.
Despite the tough home-opening loss, Chinn remained rather upbeat after the game while reflecting on his approach with the team in practice this week after starting 3-0.
“One thing about sports: never too high, never too low. You know, just stay steady on the course,” He said. “Once you win three games, don’t start fooling yourself. Because it happens sometimes in sports. It creeps in. We tried to throughout the week basically not let that seep into our thought process and our mindset, and not get complacent. But it happened a little bit out there tonight.”
The Sugar Skulls defeated the Strike Force 35-16 in San Diego in Tucson’s opening game of the season on April 3.
Atkins completed 18 of 26 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns.
Thompson had five catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
Tucson plays Northern Arizona (2-1) next Saturday at Tucson Arena at 6:05 p.m. Tucson time.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer 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 has a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU.