The Tucson Sugar Skulls clinched a playoff spot after a 53-47 road win over the San Diego Strike Force Saturday night.
Tucson joins the Northern Arizona Wranglers and the Arizona Rattlers as the third team in the state to secure a spot in the IFL playoffs.
The Sugar Skulls took a 46-34 lead after running back Mike Jones scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown with a minute left in regulation.
San Diego didn’t take long to answer.
Strike Force Quarterback Jorge Reyna connected with Marques “Hoodie ” Rodgers on a 21-yard touchdown pass to make it a 5-point game, closing the gap to 46-41 with 36 seconds on the clock.
Tucson recovered the ensuing onside kick, leading to a 1-yard rushing touchdown from Jones that extended the Sugar Skulls’ lead to 53-41 and sealed the deal.
A San Diego touchdown as the scoreboard hit zeros was too little, too late.
Tucson’s defense forced San Diego’s offense into two turnover on downs, a missed field goal and also blocked a field goal during the game.
Tucson clung to a 32-27 lead entering the fourth quarter.
On the opening drive of the fourth quarter, The Sugar Skulls’ defense forced a critical turnover on downs.
San Diego pinned Tucson deep in its territory on the next possession before Sugar Skulls’ quarterback Daquan Neal connected with wide receiver Jazeric Peterson on fourth down for a 45-yard touchdown pass to stretch the lead to 39-27 with 6:26 remaining in the game.
After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, the Sugar Skulls have now made the playoffs twice in the franchise’s three-year history.
Jones finished with four rushing touchdowns. He leads the IFL in touchdowns with 37 on the season.
Neal finished with four touchdown passes.
Peterson had three touchdown receptions.
Tucson wide receiver Carrington Thompson did not play.
The Sugar Skulls (8-6) play the Iowa Barnstormers (8-6) next Saturday 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.