Tucson Sugar Skulls

Sugar Skulls defense shuts down San Diego in season opener, Chinn records first win as Tucson head coach

Mike Jones rumbles past a Strike Force defender for a touchdown on Monday evening in San Diego. (Sugar Skulls photo)

As many sports fans across the country watched the NCAA men’s basketball national championship game involving another team from San Diego, the Tucson Sugar Skulls rolled over the San Diego Strike Force 35-16 in its season-opener. 

The 16 points allowed by Tucson’s defense is a franchise best. The Sugar Skulls team defense was ranked third to last in 2022, giving up an average of 49.2 points a game.

Tucson head coach Hurtis Chinn also logged his first win in his debut as head coach.

Chinn was Tucson’s offensive coordinator last season before taking over for former head coach Dixie Wooten, who went 15-16 in two seasons with the Sugar Skulls.

In another major shakeup from last season, Tucson starting quarterback Ramone Atkins took over for Daquan Neal, who now plays for the Vegas Knight Hawks.

Atkins was the IFL 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year with the Duke City Gladiators.

It didn’t take long for Tucson’s offense to take control of the game.

Tucson running back Mike Jones scored on fourth and goal from the 1-yard line on the first possession of the game.

On Tucson’s second possession, Atkins found wide receiver Darian Patterson for the 2-yard toucdown reception.

The Sugar Skulls held a 14-0 lead after the first quarter.

To open the second quarter, the Sugar Skulls drove down the field but were stalled at San Diego’s 2-yard line, giving the ball back to the Strike Force.

Then it was former Arizona Wildcat linebacker Rashie Hodge with the interception off San Diego quarterback Demry Croft on Tucson’s 15-yard line. Hodge returned it past midfield.

Hodge, who joined the Sugar Skulls mid-season in 2022, looked more polished and comfortable at linebacker in the season opener, menacing the Strike Force passing attack from the secondary all evening.

If Croft’s name sounds familiar it’s because he was Tucson’s starting quarterback in 2021.

On the next play, Atkins found wide receiver Carrington Thompson for a 20-yard touchdown reception that put Tucson up 21-0.

San Diego (0-2) scored a 35-yard field goal with 3:58 to go in the first half to narrow the deficit to 21-3. 

Mike Jones answered for Tucson with a 5-yard rushing touchdown at the 1:31 mark in the first half to put Tucson in firm control of the game at 28-3.

Croft went 5-for-12 with an interception before Aaron Aiken took over for him on the following drive. 

Aiken led the Strike Force within Tucson’s 10-yard line, before the Sugar Skulls forced a four-and-out late in the half.

Tucson held a 28-3 lead at halftime, but San Diego refused to throw in the towel, going on a 13-0 scoring run in the second half.

A 13-yard touchdown reception by Kentrez Bell with 4:47 to go in the third quarter, and a 6-yard rushing touchdown from Aiken with 8:45 remaining in the game cut Tucson’s lead to 28-16.

But a 2-yard quarterback keeper from Atkins with 6:02 remaining in the game all but shut the door on San Diego.

The Sugar Skulls (1-0) play the Arizona Rattlers (1-1) on Saturday at 6:05 p.m. at Footprint Center in Phoenix on Saturday.

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