The Tucson Sugar Skulls edged the Bismarck Bucks 34-27 on Saturday, earning the team’s third win of the season and keeping slim hopes for a postseason playoff berth alive.
The play of recently signed quarterback Cory Murphy, who had three rushing touchdowns on the night, was a major factor in a nearly must-win situation for Tucson.
After Murphy’s two rushing touchdowns, one from 41 yards out, helped lead the team to a 27-9 advantage over Bismarck in the first half, Sugar Skulls’ head coach Dixie Wooten opted to have Demry Croft start the second half behind center. Croft completed two of his seven passing attempts on the drive before Bismarck held Tucson to its first and last turnover on downs of the game. Croft didn’t see any action at quarterback the rest of the game.
Bismarck outscored Tucson 18-7 in the second half. But Murphy’s 2-yard touchdown run with 10:50 remaining in the game put the Sugar Skulls up 34-21 and gave Tucson the separation it needed to pull out the victory. Bismarck made the end of the game interesting by scoring a touchdown with 1:26 remaining before recovering an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. The Bucks marched down the field but were stalled when the Sugar Skulls’ defense stopped them in their tracks near the goal line as time expired.
What a difference a change at quarterback can make.
After the game, Wooten spoke of how Murphy has been on his radar for years and explained what led him to sign Cory earlier in the week after a tough loss against Spokane for the Sugar Skulls last Saturday.
“Cory’s been trying to play on my team since 2015, so hit me after the game, and I answered it and I told him to come on in,” Wooten said. “He only practiced on Wednesday and Thursday, So he came in, he understood the game, and he stepped up and made some plays to make us win.”
For Murphy, who played college football at Delaware State and most recently with the CIF franchise Wichita Falls, picking up the playbook in the few days leading up to Saturday night was no big deal.
“He does a great job of preparing me,” Murphy said. “We met every night after practice and watched film even more, so he puts in a lot of work to make sure the players are prepared.
Murphy has spent the rest of his brief time with the team trying to get to know everyone better.
“I came in that Tuesday and you know – this locker room – they’re looking for someone to come in and get a spark, so I just immediately started going out to eat, I’m trying to see where they’re at as far a team, go over the offensive schemes and watch film,” Murphy said. “Just hanging out, maybe a couple video games in between there, just getting to know the guys and their perspective on the way things are going as a team.”
While Murphy was a major contributing factor in Tucson’s success on offense Saturday night, the defense held up their end of the deal, stopping Bismarck five out of six times on third-downs, and recovering two fumbles.
Jajaun Harley, who recently returned to the lineup after an injury sidelined him for part of the season, described the mentality of the defense during the game and how he hopes the defense will assist the offense going forward.
“We wanted the pressure,” Harley said. “We want it. We want to take the pressure off the offense and put it on us, and make their job easier, and that’s what we’re going to do from here on out. Put the pressure on us, we gonna be the big brother, we gonna take care of our little brother.
“They’re gonna do their thing, we gonna step up to the plate and do what we’re supposed to do.”
Murphy completed 2 of 7 passing attempts for 30 yards. He rushed for 84 yards on 15 carries and had three touchdowns.
Matt Elam scored on an 11-yard touchdown run after forcing a fumble and recovering it.
Harley led the team with 10 tackles and had 2 sacks.
The Sugar Skulls (3-7) play next Saturday against the Northern Arizona Wranglers (1-9) at the Tucson Convention Center. 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. 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.