Tucson Sugar Skulls

Croft responsible for six TDs, Sugar Skulls dominate in all facets at Duke City

The Tucson Sugar Skulls will return to TCC for the first time in two years Saturday (Sugar Skulls photo)

The Tucson Sugar Skulls were up 35-6 in Albuquerque against Duke City at halftime on Sunday and never looked back from there, eventually defeating the Gladiators 55-35 in a game in which Tucson was firing on all cylinders.

Demry Croft accounted for six touchdowns through the air and on the ground, Mike Jones‘ rushing and receiving attack was virtually unstoppable, the defense recorded three interceptions, and the miscues and penalties that plagued Tucson and ultimately doomed the Sugar Skulls in their season-opening loss against Green Bay on the road last Friday seemed to be just what they were: a thing of the past.

Tucson was only penalized four times against Duke City for a total of 40 yards, as opposed to the 12 penalties totaling 91 yards the Sugar Skulls gave up at Green Bay.

For Duke City, coming off of a 63-55 overtime win against the Iowa Barnstormers last week in its first game of its inaugural season in the IFL, the second game of the franchise’s existence was an unsettling one.

In a postgame interview on Duke City’s YouTube broadcast, Sugar Skulls head coach Dixie Wooten was asked if he was giving the Gladiators their official welcome to the IFL, and he answered accordingly.

“Absolutely man, Gina (Duke City Gladiators owner Gina Prieskorn-Thomas) — she’s a great owner, Tino’s (Martino Theus) a great coach, so we wanted to let them know that we lost last week,” Wooten said. “We had a game under our belt, so we wanted to come in and play good and win this game.”

On the opening drive of the game, Croft connected with Kent Shelby II to put the Sugar Skulls on the board.

On the following possession for the Gladiators, a Nate Davis pass from Duke City’s 18-yard line was intercepted in the end zone by Mike Minter, who was playing in his first game of the season for the Sugar Skulls.

Jones went on to score on a rushing touchdown later in the first quarter, before Davis connected with Jared Elmore on the next possession for the Gladiators. The ensuing PAT for Duke City was no good, and the Gladiators would go scoreless until halftime.

The Sugar Skulls went on to score 21 unanswered points in the second quarter which included a touchdown reception by Ryan Balentine, a 6-yard rushing touchdown for Croft, and a 9-yard touchdown reception for Shelby.

Delano Boyd and former Utah Utes standout Cory Butler-Byrd both had interceptions in the second quarter that helped to quell any momentum for the Gladiators.

Duke City showed some signs of life on offense in the second half, outscoring Tucson 29-20, but the effort wasn’t nearly enough to surmount to large deficit the Gladiators accumulated by halftime.

In the second half, Croft connected with Balentine and Jones for touchdown receptions, and Jones added another rushing touchdown to help seal the win for the Sugar Skulls.

Croft completed 13 of 22 passing attempts for 103 yards with five touchdowns. He rushed for 67 yards on 15 carries and one touchdown.

Jones rushed for 51 yards on 14 carries and had two touchdowns. He also had four catches for 23 yards and a touchdown

Shelby II was tied with Jones as Croft’s top target, catching four passes for 41 yards and two touchdowns.

Balentine had three receptions for 20 yards and two touchdowns.

Matt Elam, a former first-team All-American at Florida and a first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens, led the Sugar Skulls with seven tackles.

Tucson’s home opener at the Tucson Convention Center is Saturday at 6:05 p.m. against Iowa and will be played in front of a crowd of potential 100 percent capacity (the TCC seats 9,275).

Before Wooten joined the Sugar Skulls as head coach and general manager after the 2019 season, he was at the helm for the Barnstormers for three seasons in which he earned two IFL Coach of the Year awards, won the 2018 United Bowl championship, and finished the 2019 regular season with a 12-2 record.


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.

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