Tucson Sugar Skulls

Turnovers doom Sugar Skulls in 31-21 loss to Northern Arizona

Mike Jones jumps over Northern Arizona linebacker Justin Whisenhunt on Saturday evening at Tucson Arena (Sugar Skulls photo)

Turnovers plagued the Tucson Sugar Skulls in a 31-21 loss to defending IFL champions Northern Arizona on Saturday evening at Tucson Arena.

After starting the season 3-0 on the road, the Sugar Skulls have lost the first two home games.

“We got to do better, especially for the home crowd. This is not acceptable,” Tucson head coach Hurtis Chinn said. “That’s one thing we talked about just now after the game. That’s an uacceptable loss. It starts with me, and we just got to do better on the offensive side of the ball. There were too many misreads and miscommunications. Things that we knew that were going to happen that did happen, and we just didn’t execute.”

Tucson had five turnovers in the game, something Chinn thinks got into his players’ heads and snowballed from there.

“You never can tell what led to turnovers. Sometimes players get in their head when it comes to turnovers,” Chinn said. “They think within themselves within the moment. Like, ‘This a big moment.’ They try too hard to take control of the game instead of let the game come to them. And that’s what happens sometimes when it comes to turnovers. It’s just going a little too hard, not realizing the moment and letting the plays develop and take care of themselves.”

While the offense has sputtered out the past two games, the defense is much improved from last season, when Tucson ranked 12th out of 14 IFL teams. The Sugar Skulls rank second in team defense this year.

Improving the defense is something Tucson ownership asked Chinn to work on in the offseason before his first season as head coach.

Chinn was the offensive coordinator in 2022.

“Taking this job from ownership to me was, ‘Hey, we have to do better on defense,” Chinn said. “Funny how things work. Now we have to do better on offense.”

Northern Arizona tacked on a 20-yard field goal in the waning seconds to give the Wranglers a 24-14 lead at the break.

The Wranglers looked to extend their lead on the opening drive of the second half, but Tucson defensive back JJ Dallas intercepted on the Sugar Skulls’ 7-yard line. 

Tucson gave the ball back to Northern Arizona when Wranglers’ defensive back Kishawn Walker intercepted a pass from Atkins at midfield with at the 6:50 mark in the third quarter.

The turnover fest continued when Mike Minter came up with an interception in the end zone as the Wranglers threatened form the 10-yard line at the 14:20 mark in the fourth quarter.

Atkins pulled the Sugar Skulls closer when he found Emetrious Scott for a 20-yard touchdown reception with 10:43 to go in the fourth quarter, closing the gap to 24-21.

Tucson defensive back Rashie Hodge, a former U of A linebacker who played under Jedd Fisch in his first season as Arizona head coach 2021, picked up an interception on the Tucson 17-yard line with 7:45 remaining.

Atkins threw his third interception of the evening on the next possession, when Banks picked him off at the Northern Arizona 12-yard line.

It was Atkins fourth turnover of the game.

Northern Arizona wide receiver Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman scored on a 2-yard touchdown sweep to extend its lead to 31-21 with 50 seconds left.

Having a scoreless quarter in the high-powered, fast-paced Indoor Football League is almost unheard of, but that’s just what occurred on Saturday evening. 

The Tucson Sugar Skulls ran over six minutes off the clock on the opening drive of the game but turned it over on downs at Northern Arizona’s 4-yard line.

The Wranglers (3-2) wasted little time getting within Tucson’s 10-yard line before Jarrod Ware Jr. fumbled into Tucson’s end zone for a touchback.

On the following Sugar Skulls’ drive, Carrington Thompson fumbled on the Northern Arizona 14-yard line and Northern Arizona defensive back Dorian Walker recovered it, running it back to the Tucson 1-yard line.

The Tucson defense held strong for three downs, but Ware scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown in the opening seconds of the second quarter to give Northern Arizona a 7-0 lead.

On Tucson’s next possession, Northern Arizona defensive back Travion Banks intercepted deep pass by Tucson quarterback Ramone Atkins at the 12:04 mark.

Northern Arizona quarterback Garrett Kettle found Ware for an 8-yard touchdown reception with 9:25 to go in the second quarter to extend the Wranglers lead to 14-0.

The Sugar Skulls got on the board when Atkins connected with Carrington on an 8-yard touchdown pass with 3:32 to go before halftime. Tucson kicker Victor Leventritt missed the point after.

With 1:40 left before the break, Kettle scored a 4-yard rushing touchdown on a direct snap to extend Northern Arizona’s lead to 20-6.

Northern Arizona muffed a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff to give the Sugar Skulls the ball on the Wranglers’ 13-yard line.

Mike Jones punched in a 4-yard rushing touchdown with 21 seconds remaining in the first half. Atkins rushed for a successful 2-point conversion to cut the Northern Arizona lead to 21-14.

Tucson plays at Duke City next Saturday at 5:05 p.m. Tucson time.


 ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writer 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 has a bachelor’s degree from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU.

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