The Tucson Sugar Skulls defeated the Green Bay Blizzard 48-39 on Saturday evening at Tucson Arena in the final game of the regular season to secure the third seed in the IFL Western Conference playoffs. The Sugar Skulls will play Bay Area in the opening round of the postseason.
The Sugar Skulls (9-6) clinched a spot in the 2023 IFL Playoffs with a road win over Duke City on July 8.
Tucson head coach Hurtis Chinn was satisfied to end the regular season with a win in front of the fans at the Boneyard in Tucson Arena, where the Sugar Skulls went 3-5 this season.
“Honestly, that was the biggest thing, just to leave a good lasting impression about our team for our home crowd for the 2023 season,” he said. “So we talked about that. I didn’t shy away from it. I didn’t act like it didn’t exist. I know I was fully aware of it. I made them fully aware of it. But we went into it, we didn’t back into the playoffs. We went into the playoffs playing well on both sides of the ball, and I feel great about that.”
Tucson’s 21-10 lead at halftime was anchored by its defense which held Green Bay (7-8) to two field goal attempts in the second quarter, one resulting in a turnover on downs. Forcing two field goal attempts is a rare feat for a defense in a complete IFL game, let alone in one quarter.
A late second quarter interception with under a minute on the clock by Tucson defensive back and former U of A linebacker Rashie Hodge halted Green Bay’s final drive before half.
Tucson extended its lead to 28-10 after Mike Jones scored a 5-yard rushing touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter, and the Sugar Skulls never really looked back.
A late touchdown and a two-point conversion by Green Bay with under a minute remaining closed the gap, but didn’t change the outcome.
The win gives Tucson its ninth overall victory, which ties a franchise record set last season when the Sugar Skulls finished 9-8 after losing to Northern Arizona in the first round of the IFL playoffs. Chinn was an assistant coach on that staff and believes the mentality in the locker room has changed in his first year in charge.
“As an organization, as a team, as a staff, we just want to enjoy it because in life when a person is happy, they do more, they’re willing to do more, and that’s what we get out of players,” he said. “The more upbeat they are, the more willing I am to coach… So, the mentality, I made a conscious decision to shift, so you won’t feel down about yourself or in a funk to where you won’t give us much.”
Hodge, who joined the Sugar Skulls during the 2022 season, can also feel the change in mentality from last season.
“I could talk about it on defense or just the whole team. There’s just an atmosphere that we’re all around. We’re all together. We’re all laughing and joking,” Hodge said. “But then when it’s time to lock in, we’re locked in, we’re doing our jobs, doing what we need to do. And just trying to be the best Sugar Skulls team we can be.”
As for what it will take to make a deep postseason run, Chinn believes the organization will need an all-hands-on-deck approach.
“It’s going to take everything from everybody,” he said. “It’s going take the ownership of the front office and the media. It’s going to take the equipment guy, the trainers, and it’s going to take everybody to just believe that we can do it and us to go in and get back to work tomorrow morning and start putting the work in to get that done.”
For Tucson quarterback Ramone Atkins, it will take determination and dedication for the Sugar Skulls to make a deep playoff run.
“Keeping our foot on the gas and still taking those steps for getting one percent better every day in film, in practice, and on our own,” he said.
Mike Jones rushed for 47 yards on 12 carries and had three touchdowns.
Benjamin Jones rushed for 35 yards on eight carries and had two touchdowns.
Atkins completed seven of 10 passing attempts for 54 yards with one touchdown.
Tucson next plays at Bay Area (9-5) in the first round of the IFL playoffs on Sunday, July 23, at 3:05 p.m. Tucson time. You can watch it on the IFL YouTube channel. Bay Area plays Duke City on Sunday afternoon in its last game of the regular season.
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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.