Coming off of a bye week, the Tucson Sugar Skulls defeated the Bay Area Panthers by the largest margin in franchise history, 58-33, on Saturday night at Tucson Arena.
“We played a great game on defense. Our offense kept scoring every drive, and the special teams played an amazing game too,” Tucson head coach Dixie Wooten said. “This was a good game to start the second season off, and start it off right.”
Propelled by a balanced attack on both sides of the ball, the Sugar Skulls took the lead in the second quarter and never looked back.
The Panthers clung to a 14-13 lead when Tucson’s defense forced a turnover on downs near the 13-minute mark in the second quarter.
Tucson quarterback Daquan Neal scrambled for a 14-yard rushing touchdown on the next possession to give the Sugar Skulls a 20-14 lead.
On third down on the following possession, Tucson linebacker Rayshad Jackson tackled Bay Area running back Duane Gary in the backfield before defensive lineman Isame Faciane blocked a 52-yard field goal on fourth down.
Tucson’s next drive culminated in a 1-yard rushing touchdown by running back Mike Jones, extending the Sugar Skulls’ lead to 27-14 with 7:45 remaining in the second quarter.
Tucson’s Quinton Pedroza recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and was rewarded later in the drive with a 19-yard touchdown reception to extend the Sugar Skulls’ lead to 34-14 with 1:41 to go before halftime.
Bay Area quarterback Vincent Espinoza connected with wide receiver Daniel Crowell for a 14-yard touchdown pass to close the gap to 34-20 with 30 seconds remaining in the half, but a 38-yard field goal by Logan Justus put the Sugar Skulls up 37-20 going into the break, and they never looked back.
It was just another day in the office for the even-keeled Jones, who finished with five touchdowns.
“I’m a winner at heart. Once the clock hits zero, win or lose, I know we gotta get ready for the next game,” he said. “That game we just played, that isn’t the last game of the season. My goal is a championship, so after the game, like I said, I’m looking forward to the next team.”
For Neal, the victory was especially sweet because he was playing for something more than the team and himself, his newborn baby daughter Khelani, who was born early Saturday morning.
“I had a baby this morning… Three this morning, East Coast time… I’ll be leaving here on a flight in the morning to go back home and see her,” he said. “I really wanted to come out here and just play carefree. Really, just for Khelani. I’m thankful that I can be away from my kids and be able to chase my dream with my other half at home holding it down.
“It’s definitely a blessing being able to be out here, and then to come out here and being able to perform well and all that, so I can’t wait to get back home and see her.”
Bay Area finished a combined 2-for-10 on third and fourth down conversions, including 1-for-4 on fourth down.
The Panthers’ 33 points are the least points Tucson’s defense has allowed all season.
Neal completed 14 of 22 pass attempts for 157 yards and three touchdowns. He rushed for 17 yards on four carries and had one touchdown.
Jones rushed for 74 yards on eight carries and had four touchdowns. He had two receptions for 22 yards and a touchdown.
Pedroza had five receptions for 65 yards and one touchdown.
The Sugar Skulls (6-5) play Saturday at Tucson Arena against the Vegas Knight Hawks (5-7). Kickoff is at 6:05 p.m.
FOLLOW @KEVINMURFEE ON TWITTER!
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.