If Las Vegas set betting odds for the IFL, Tucson would have probably been heavy underdogs against its big brother up north, but conventional betting wisdom was thrown to the Southern Arizona winds when the Tucson Sugar Skulls defeated the Arizona Rattlers 74-63 on Saturday night in Tucson Arena.
The win against the Rattlers (7-1), coached by AFL and IFL legend Kevin Guy who started the Tucson franchise with his wife and current owner Cathy Guy, marked a franchise first for Tucson.
“It’s amazing, man,” Tucson head coach Dixie Wooten said. “For us to be around for three years and to beat these guys is important. Now, we can start a rivalry. We can start it right now. We finally beat them, and we beat them in front of our home crowd, so it was a great day for us.”
With 5:47 remaining in the third quarter, Tucson quarterback Daquan Neal scrambled for a 10-yard rushing touchdown to give the Sugar Skulls a 55-40 lead over the Rattlers.
Arizona quarterback Drew Powell fumbled an errant snap on the next possession, and Tucson defensive lineman Ronald Collins recovered the ball on the Rattlers’ 9-yard line.
“It was huge; it was huge,” Collins said. “Our offense is gonna score every time it hit the field, so we needed a stop, and that was a big stop.”
Tucson kicker Logan Justus went on to kick a crucial 19-yard field goal to put Arizona up 58-40 with 14:52 remaining in the game.
The Sugar Skulls and the Rattlers traded scores on every possession from that point on, and Tucson recovered three onside kicks from Arizona, holding on for the 74-63 win.
“It was amazing,” Neal said after the game. ” As a competitor, you always wanna play against the top to see where you’re at. Athletically, physically, all that. They brought it, we brought it too. The atmosphere was great, and I’m just proud of us.
“We ain’t never beat them before, and to do it at home, it was a great feeling.”
After a seesaw first quarter and then some, the Sugar Skulls closed out the second quarter with a vengeance.
With 6:50 remaining in the second quarter, Neal connected with wide receiver Carrington Thompson on an 18-yard touchdown pass to put the Sugar Skulls up 28-26 on Arizona.
On the next possession, the Tucson defense came up big when linebacker Connor Taylor and defensive lineman Collins tackled Arizona quarterback Drew Powell near midfield on a quarterback scramble to force a turnover on downs.
With 1:24 to go in the first half, Neal scored a 3-yard rushing touchdown to put Tucson up 35-26.
Powell found wide receiver Braxton Haley on a deep bomb for a 34-yard touchdown reception on the ensuing possession to close the gap to three points for the Rattlers, leaving 33 seconds left in the half for Tucson to answer.
And answer the Sugar Skulls did.
After recovering on an onside kick, Neal connected with wide receiver Quinton Pedroza on a 2-yard touchdown pass to put Tucson up 42-32 going into halftime.
The 74 points Tucson scored on Saturday are the most in franchise history. The 137 combined points in the game are a franchise record as well.
Tucson had set franchise bests in those two categories just two weeks ago in a 72-62 shootout against Northern Arizona.
The Sugar Skulls are now 1-7 against the Rattlers since the franchise’s inception in 2019.
Neal completed 12 of 15 pass attempts for 152 yards and five touchdowns. He rushed for 28 yards on 10 carries and had two touchdowns.
Pedroza had four receptions for 65 yards with two touchdowns.
Arthur Jackson had four receptions for 32 yards with two touchdowns.
Mike Jones rushed for 35 yards on 10 carries and had two touchdowns.
The Sugar Skulls (4-3) play Saturday against Northern Arizona (4-2) in Prescott Valley. 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. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. 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.