The Tucson Sugar Skulls narrowly defeated the Northern Arizona Wranglers 48-46 in triple overtime Saturday night to keep their postseason hopes alive in a game that came down to the wire.
Recently signed quarterback Cory Murphy has now lead Tucson to back-to-back wins in his first two games since signing with the Sugar Skulls, and both games came down to the final play of the game.
Sugar Skulls’ kicker Kevin Goessling hit a 17-yard field goal that tied the game at 34-34 with 13 seconds left in regulation, sending the game into overtime.
In the first overtime period, Murphy found Jazeric Petersen in the back of the end zone on a seven-yard touchdown reception, but Goessling missed the point after, leaving the score at 40-34. Northern Arizona quarterback Verlon Reed Jr. found Terrance Bynum in the end zone for a six-yard touchdown reception knotting the game up at 40 on the ensuing possession. The game would have been over if Northern Arizona kicker Brandon Fischer hit a routine extra-point, but he didn’t. Tucson’s defensive lineman Isame Faciane blocked the kick and single-handedly sent the game into a second overtime.
Both Fischer and Goessling had chances to win the game on field goals in the second overtime, but both came up short. Fischer had a chance to put the Wranglers up three but missed the kick wide left. All Goessling had to do to seal the victory for Tucson was hit a 26-yard field goal – but it was blocked – deflating the crowd, and sending the game into a third overtime period.
On the first possession of triple overtime, Murphy found Peterson on a perfectly thrown 30-yard touchdown reception. The Sugar Skulls converted the two-point conversion and were up 48-40 leading into what ended up the final possession of the ballgame. Reed Jr. marched the Wranglers down the field, before scoring on a one-yard rushing touchdown. On the two-point conversion attempt that followed, Reed Jr. received the snap and dropped back but got tripped up on his own feet and fell to the ground, sending the Tucson Convention Center into a roar and sealing a 48-46 victory for the Sugar Skulls.
Tucson head coach Dixie Wooten commented on what he told the team in the locker room after the game.
“We gotta keep fighting, we gotta keep battling, we gotta keep understanding, we gotta work, work, work,” Wooten said. “We put ourselves in a bind early, but what does it matter as long as you’ve got a chance. So, guess what? We’re trying to win out so we can be on the bus.”
Wooten explained how he has been able to get the team to buy in after starting the season losing seven out of nine games.
“When you’ve won a championship, it’s hard to pack up,” Wooten said. “So when I went and looked at the schedule, I looked at the seedings and everything and saw that we had a chance, came back in that locker room and put it on the board and showed these guys. As a coach, I can say everything I wanna say, but if these guys don’t buy-in, we’re not in our situation now.
“So we gotta give it to those players man, they looked in each other’s face and said ‘Let’s go.’ and they started pushing the buttons and we’re here.”
Peterson, who caught two touchdown passes in overtime, reflected on how Murphy joined the struggling Sugar Skulls a week and a half ago and immediately fit in.
“He instantly wanted to know us, and when I seen that I was like, ‘Yeah, I like you,'” Peterson said. “Kudos and respect to Croft, but Cory, he came in with kind of the same mindset as Croft, but he just wanted to learn how we do things. That’s what was most important to me.
“I want to fit in with you and I want you to fit in with me, and that’s just kind of how he’s been.”
Murphy completed 8 of 12 passing attempts for 99 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for 93 yards on 14 carries.
Peterson was Murphy’s top target, with five catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
Mike Jones rushed for 23 yards on five carries and had two touchdowns.
Michael Minter led the team in tackles with 10.5 total tackles (9 solo).
Delondo Boyd returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown.
The Sugar Skulls (4-7) play next Sunday against the Arizona Rattlers (9-2) in Phoenix. Kickoff is at 3:05 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.