The Tucson Sugar Skulls lost 37-34 at home to the Massachusetts Pirates Saturday night on a heartbreaking 48-yard field goal from former Sugar Skulls’ kicker Josh Gable as time expired.
In a bright spot on a night in which the Sugar Skulls struggled to get into a flow on offense and committed costly penalties, Tucson wide receiver Ryan Balentine became the IFL’s all-time leader in career receiving yards.
Balentine set the record on a spectacular catch in the fourth quarter in which many of the 3,119 fans in attendance likely didn’t recognize its significance.
For Ballentine, the moment ended up being bittersweet after the Sugar Skulls came out on the losing end.
“It was a great personal goal,” said Balentine. “We all have our team goals and personal goals, but it’s time to work on the team goals now.”
With 18 seconds remaining in the game, Demry Croft picked up a botched snap and ran into the end zone from the 2-yard line to even the game at 34-34 with Massachusetts. It probably would have been the play of the game if it weren’t for the last-second game winning field goal by the Pirates on the following drive.
The Sugar Skulls have dropped four out of five games to open the season, and this time around, Tucson head coach Dixie Wooten didn’t place all of the blame on his own shoulders.
“I think, right now, we’re lacking leadership and confidence,” Wooten said. “At the end of the day, a coach can only coach, he can’t play, so you need a leader to step up on the field.”
While Wooten believes the Sugar Skulls need more team leaders, he was pleased with Tucson’s effort on the field.
“Those guys are playing hard, especially our defense,” said Wooten. “They’re playing hard and playing to the end. It’s important that when we did turn the ball over, we came and made a stop, to make sure we were still down by seven.
“Then we came back, and Demry (Croft) had a great drive, then they (Massachusetts) came and kicked a field goal to win the game. That shows you that we have a team, we just gotta figure it out.”
When asked how he would keep the team motivated after a tough start to the season, Wooten was adamant that the team will still be focused on the bigger picture.
“Because were 1-4, and we still got nine games left, that’s the reason why,” Wooten said. “How this league is going, 7-7 might get you a fifth seed, so we still gotta battle, we still gotta be dedicated to be successful. When you have chance to be a coach and win a championship, it’s hard to quit because any game can turn it around.”
The Tucson Sugar Skulls (1-4) play next Saturday against the winless Northern Arizona Wranglers (0-5) in Prescott Valley. Kickoff is at 5:10 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.