The Tucson Sugar Skulls blew a 13-point halftime lead to fall 40-34 to the Vegas Knight Hawks on Saturday evening at Tucson Arena and, for the time being, miss out on clinching a playoff spot.
The top four teams in the Western Conference qualify for the playoffs, and while Tucson (7-6) still sits at third place in the Western Conference, the loss diminishes the possibility of hosting in the first round.
Tucson head coach Hurtis Chinn believes the combination of a missed field goal by the Sugar Skulls just before halftime and an arm injury that bothered quarterback Ramone Atkins for most of the second half was the difference in the game.
“Everything that went wrong happened at the wrong time, and I tell our players that it’s not going to be the right time when it happens. So we didn’t take advantage of going into halftime with a three score lead. We came up unfortunate there. Then, in the second half, we could have kept the pace and kept the lead going into the end zone, but we couldn’t put the ball in the air,” Chinn said.
Former Tucson quarterback Daquan Neal scored on a quarterback keeper on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line to close the gap for Vegas at 27-21 at the 10 minute mark of the third quarter.
The Vegas defense forced Tucson into a turnover on downs on fourth-and-1 from the Vegas 3-yard line with 5:55 to go in the third quarter.
Atkins came out a play earlier because of an injury.
“So that time, he (Atkins) just said it was like excruciating pain that he had to come out. So we had to put the ball on the ground again because it was a fast situation. The quarterback (backup quarterback Dylan Vanboxel) didn’t have any time to warm up his arm and get ready to throw, so I didn’t want to stick him out there in that situation… We didn’t get some blocks on that play. We kept the ball on the ground, and we came up short.”
The Knight Hawks (4-9) would go on to score a touchdown on a 2-yard rush from Neal as time expired in the third quarter. Vegas missed the extra point, keeping the score tied at 27 heading into the fourth quarter.
Vegas recovered the onside kick that followed.
“The wing guy on that overcompensated. So, he squeezed the formation to close, and (the) Vegas kicker saw a void in our kick return coverage and exploited it,” Chinn said.
Neal finished the drive with an 8-yard rushing touchdown to put the Knight Hawks up 34-27 with 6:42 remaining in the game.
On the next possession, Atkins connected with Dequan Dudley on a 5-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-4 from the Vegas 5-yard line to tie the game at 34 at the 2:02 mark in the fourth quarter.
A 3-yard rushing touchdown from Jonathan Johnson with nine seconds remaining put the nail in the coffin for the Sugar Skulls.
The Sugar Skulls’ defense, which came into Saturday’s game ranked second in the IFL in points allowed per game at 40.6, showed up in a big way in the first half.
Vegas turned the ball over on downs on fourth-and-1 from Tucson’s 4-yard line on a pass that fell incomplete out of the corner of the end zone with 6:45 remaining in the second quarter.
A 9-yard rushing touchdown from Benjamin Jones extended Tucson’s lead to 27-14 with 3:06 to go before halftime.
Tucson’s defense came up big again when it forced Vegas into a 25-yard field goal attempt that defensive lineman Melik Owens blocked with under a minute left in the first half.
Despite the loss, it’s back to the drawing board for Chinn, but don’t expect him to throw in the towel on this season anytime soon.
“”Everything we want is still in front of us. I’m just not a man that tuck my tail and run. I’m not a man that gives up and quits easily. Never been, never will,” he said. “I just want, at some point, them to just take on that attitude to keep pushing to keep going. It’s a journey. It’s an up-and-down journey for us Sugar Skulls, but we’ve got to just see it through, and you know, I just don’t believe in giving up and quitting. We’re going to finish.”
Tucson next plays at Duke City (5-8) next Saturday at 5:05 p.m.
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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.