The Tucson Sugar Skulls picked up a much-needed road victory, defeating the San Diego Strike Force 69-65 on Saturday evening in Pechanga Arena in the return of Tucson quarterback Daquan Neal.
Neal was absent from the lineup last Saturday in a 36-21 loss at Northern Arizona because he had a tryout scheduled with the Indianapolis Colts, leaving rookie quarterback Gabriel Cunningham to run the offense in his first appearance in an IFL game.
Neal’s importance to the Tucson offense was on full display in San Diego, scoring seven total touchdowns to lead the Sugar Skulls to victory in a seesaw shootout.
Tucson running back Mike Jones scored on a 2-yard rushing touchdown to put the Sugars Skulls up 62-51 with 49 seconds left in the game, a game-ending dagger in any other form of football outside of the IFL.
San Diego returned a squib kick to Tucson’s 10-yard line on the ensuing kickoff before San Diego quarterback Jorge Reyna found wide receiver Rashad Ross for a 10-yard touchdown reception.
San Diego wide receiver Marques Rodgers ran it in for a two-point conversion on a fake reverse to bring San Diego within three points, at 62-59 with 40 seconds on the clock.
Tucson wide receiver Quinton Pedroza recovered the ensuing onside kick on San Diego’s 7-yard line before a 4-yard rushing touchdown from Jones put the Sugar Skulls up 69-59.
While Rogers scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown as time expired, it was too little too late.
There were nine lead changes in the game.
Neal scored a 4-yard rushing touchdown to put Tucson up 55-51 on San Diego with four minutes remaining in the game and the Sugar Skulls never looked back.
The Sugar Skulls defense pinned the Strike Force deep in its territory on the following possession before Tucson defensive lineman Maurice Jackson tackled Reyna on the 2-yard line with 55 seconds on the clock to force a crucial turnover on downs.
Tucson defensive back Cam Gaddis, a former Santa Rita standout and Pima College graduate, left the game in the fourth quarter, unable to put any weight on his left leg. Gaddis had just re-signed with the Sugar Skulls, suiting up for the first time since a season-ending injury in 2021.
Tucson is now 2-3 on the road this season.
The Sugar Skulls (5-4) return home to play Saturday against the Northern Arizona Wranglers (7-2) at Tucson Arena. 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.