The Tucson Sugar Skulls squeaked out a 42-41 road win over the Vegas Knight Hawks after Vegas kicker Stevie Artigue missed a 25-yard game-winning field goal attempt with one second remaining on Saturday afternoon in a game that may have major Western Conference playoff implications down the road.
Tucson trailed for over 59 of the game’s 60 minutes, erasing a 14-point deficit in the second half, picking up a late-game rouge, and an interception with under a minute remaining to set up the exciting finish.
2022 Tucson starting quarterback Daquan Neal, who left Tucson for the USFL before joining Vegas, played exceptionally well in his first game facing the Sugar Skulls since his departure, tallying five total touchdowns on the afternoon.
With 6:51 remaining in the fourth quarter, a 15-yard touchdown scramble from Tucson quarterback Ramone Atkins cut the Knight Hawks’ lead to 41-34.
Tucson picked up a 1-point rouge on the ensuing kickoff when kickoff returner Malik Honeycutt couldn’t escape the Vegas end zone, cutting the lead to 41-35.
After Vegas methodically ran the clock and moved the ball down to the Tucson 10-yard line, a pass from Neal was intercepted in the end zone with under a minute to go in the game by Tucson linebacker Rashie Hodge, a former U of A linebacker who played under Jedd Fisch in his first season as Arizona head coach 2021. Neal was injured on the play and wouldn’t return.
Tucson took its first lead of the afternoon at 42-41 on a 4-yard rushing touchdown from Mike Jones with 26.9 seconds left.
On the ensuing kickoff, Tucson elected to go for a deuce — a score of two points when a free kick goes between the uprights— and missed allowing Vegas backup quarterback Joe Mancuso to start the drive from midfield and get the Knight Hawks further into field goal range.
Two straight completions for Mancuso got Vegas within the 7-yard line, setting up the eventual missed 25-yard field goal attempt.
Immediately after the game, Tucson sat in fourth place, and Vegas dropped to sixth place in a bunched- up Western Conference. The top four seeds from the Eastern and Western Conferences qualify for the IFL playoffs.
Neal and the Vegas defense controlled the game most of the afternoon, leading the Knight Hawks (4-6) to a shutout first quarter.
Neal scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown on the game’s opening drive before Vegas recovered a fumble from Atkins on its 5-yard line on Tucson’s first possession. Neal then found Quentin Randolph for a 10-yard touchdown reception, putting the Knight Hawks up 13-0 after a blocked PAT from Tucson’s Trae’varis Ferrell at the 2:25 mark of the first quarter.
Tucson got on the board at the 13:00 mark of the second quarter when Atkins connected with Carrington Thompson on a 13-yard touchdown reception, but a 5-yard rushing touchdown from Vegas running back Honeycutt extended the Knight Hawks’ lead to 20-7 with 8:45 to go in the second quarter.
A 10-yard touchdown reception from Thompson cut the Knight Hawks’ lead to 20-13 on Tucson’s following possession.
With 43 seconds left before halftime, Neal recorded his second touchdown reception and third total touchdown of the afternoon when he found Randolph from 20 yards out to extend the Knight Hawks’ lead to 27-13.
On the opening drive of the second half, a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Tucson running back Mike Jones cut the Knight Hawks’ lead to one possession at 27-20. Vegas answered when Neal scored his second rushing touchdown of the afternoon from six yards out to extend the lead back 34-20 at the 2:52 mark of the third quarter.
A 5-yard rushing touchdown from Tucson running back Benjamin Jones in the waning seconds of the third quarter made it a one-possession game again.
A 6-yard touchdown pass from Neal to Caleb Holley with 8:20 remaining in the game extended the Knight Hawks’ lead to two possessions at 41-27.
Tucson (5-4) returns home to play the Duke City Gladiators (4-5) at Tucson Arena next Saturday at 6:05 p.m. Tucson time.
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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.