Tucson Sugar Skulls

Wooten vows to put Croft in better situations after Sugar Skulls drop home opener to Iowa

Demry Croft was sacked three times and threw two interceptions in Saturday’s 33-13 home-opening loss against the Iowa Barnstormers (Courtesy of the Tucson Sugar Skulls/Darryl Webb)

The Tucson Sugar Skulls lost the first home game of the Dixie Wooten era 33-13 against his former team, the Iowa Barnstormers in front of 3,248 fans at the TCC on Saturday.

Wooten coached three seasons at Iowa in which he was named IFL Coach of the Year twice, won the 2018 United Bowl, and finished the 2019 regular season with a 12-2 record before he joined the Sugar Skulls as head coach and general manager.

A week after being named IFL Offensive Player of the Week for his six-touchdown performance at Duke City, Demry Croft came down to Earth in Saturday’s game against Iowa in which he completed 18 of 25 pass attempts for 154 yards, threw two interceptions, was sacked three times, and never found the end zone.

Wooten carried the weight of the blame on his shoulders and explained that he had to put Croft, who is playing his rookie season in the IFL, in better situations for the team to be successful.

“He’s doing great, he’s just a young quarterback that’s never played this game,” Wooten said. “He struggled a little bit the first game, he was offensive player of the week last week, and he struggled a little bit this week, but I have to do a better job of putting this young man in a great situation to be successful.”

According to Croft, the growing pains he is facing as a young quarterback can be alleviated by getting acquainted with the pace of the game and preparation in practice.

“The IFL experience has really been a new experience, said Croft.” “It’s definitely faster than the outdoor game, but hopefully I get it down with more practice this week.”

The Sugar Skulls were tied at 13-13 with the Barnstormers at halftime but were outscored 20-0 in the second half, in a game in which Tucson’ s offense had trouble sustaining drives, going 2 of 7 on third-down conversions, and 1 of 3 on fourth down conversions.

Mike Jones accounted for both of Tucson’s touchdowns, rushing for 22 yards on 9 carries.

Ryan Balentine caught seven passes for 67 yards, and Juju Augustine also had seven receptions for 56 yards.

Mike Minter recorded the only interception for the Sugar Skulls’ defense.

Antonio Rosales was ejected in the fourth quarter for two violations of unsportsmanlike conduct including contact with a referee. Wooten said he would meet with coaches this week to discuss Rosales’ status with the team.

After a season-opening 42-36 loss at Green Bay, the Sugar Skulls made adjustments in practice that resulted in Tucson defeating Duke City 55-35 the next week. Wooten is hoping the team will respond the same way in Week 4 after making adjustments during practice this week.

“We just gotta go back to the drawing board, I’ve gotta always remember that my quarterback is young,” Wooten said. “So I gotta make sure that he goes up, and up every week. I think this week I threw a lot on his plate to make plays because he was great last week, and that was all my fault.

“I’m supposed to always – like I do with my other quarterbacks – bring him up, bring him up, bring him up, every step of the way.”

The Tucson Sugar Skulls (1-2) play next Saturday against the Arizona Rattlers (2-1) in Phoenix. Kickoff is at 6:10 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.

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