Tucson Sugar Skulls

Tucson Sugar Skulls’ home opener spoiled by Bay Area Panthers

Mylik Mitchell speeds past two Panthers defenders. He was last week’s IFL Player of the Week (Photo by Gilbert Alcaraz/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

Mylik Mitchell and Mike Jones were stellar in the Tucson’s home opener Sunday, but stalled redzone drives and giving up big plays were too much, as the Sugar Skulls were defeated by the Bay Area Panthers 44-31 at the Tucson Convention Center.

The Sugar Skulls (1-2) are still trying to get on a winning streak, while Bay Area (3-0) is undefeated to start the season.

“We just have to get better every day,” new Tucson head coach Billy Back said. “Our practices have to be better. We have to prepare, in practice, as if it’s a game. We got some things we gotta fix. Our next couple of games aren’t easy, our schedule isn’t easy.”

The Sugar Skulls had numerous opportunities to finish drives with touchdowns and field goals, but penalties and untimely sacks proved too detrimental.

“We missed reads,” Back said. “We missed some open guys. We had a key hold which costed us a touchdown in that first drive of the game and we settled for three points. We shot ourselves in the foot as a team.”

Mitchell believes the offense is more physical than how it is currently playing.

“We gotta be more physical,” Mitchell said. “We gotta move guys at the line of scrimmage and just plow into the endzone. We got me and Jones in the backfield. We got wide receivers that run hard and fast. We just gotta do it every play.”

The Sugar Skulls marched down to the 3-yard line, but a holding call stalled the opening drive, forcing Tucson to settle for a field goal to go up 3-0 with 9:16 left in the first quarter.

Bay Area quickly answered back on the second play of its drive.

Former Sugar Skulls quarterback Daquan Neal connected with Jazeric Peterson for a 43-yard touchdown pass to put the Panthers up 7-3 with 7:37 left in the first quarter.

Tucson started its next drive at the 18-yard line and marched 32 yards down to the redzone, where Mitchell connected to Jalin Marshall for Tucson’s first touchdown at home this season, putting the Sugar Skulls up 10-7 with 4:39 left in the first quarter.

Bay Area began its drive at the 17-yard line and took its time to get down the field, taking the remaining four minutes of the first quarter to reach the Sugar Skulls’ 1-yard line.

With seven seconds left, Shane Simpson capped the drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown to put the Panthers up 14-10.

The Sugar Skulls started at the 12-yard line at the start of the second quarter, and rolled to the Bay Area 11-yard line, thanks to the footwork and third-down conversions of Mitchell.

Tucson’s drive would stall once inside the redzone. A 7-yard sack and another costly holding call put the Sugar Skulls back to their own 18-yard line, where it would have to settle for yet another field goal attempt.

This time, the field goal was blocked and ran back to the Bay Area 24-yard line with 7:10 left in the half.

Trae’varis Ferrell came up huge to stop Bay Area from capitalizing on the turnover, making a diving swat to stall the Panthers within eight yards of a touchdown.

The Sugar Skulls started on the 8-yard line and got to the Bay Area 8 before their drive stalled.

A penalty on the Panthers moved them to the 4-yard line and gave them a first and goal. A sack on second down sent the Skulls back five yards. A field goal was attempted but missed with one second in the second quarter.

Tucson went to the locker room down 14-10.

Bay Area received the ball to start the third quarter at its 15-yard line.

The Panthers took just under four minutes to drive to the other end and finish with a rushing touchdown by Felix Harper. The field goal was good and Bay Area widened its lead to 21-10.

After another stalled Sugar Skull drive at its 11-yard line, the Panthers took advantage in just two plays.

Harper ran in a 4-yard touchdown to put Bay Area up 28-10 with 5:44 left in the third quarter.

The nifty footwork of Jones and Mitchell got the Sugar Skulls to the Bay Area 6-yard line, where they would eventually capitalize. Mitchell connected with Marshall in the middle of the endzone to shorten the deficit to 28-17 with 28 seconds left in the third quarter.

Bay Area answered back with a Harper pass to JT Jones for a 30-yard touchdown catch, making it a 35-17 game going into the fourth quarter.

Mitchell was intercepted on the very next drive and Bay Area turned into a three points by hitting a 19-yard field goal. The score was 38-17 with 9:41 seconds left.

A huge kick return set the Sugar Skulls up inside the Bay Area 5-yard line. After two rushing plays, Mitchell was finally able to punch it in, putting Tucson back in a two-possession game at 38-23 with 8:10 left in the game.


A failed onside kick attempt put Bay Area within Tucson’s 5-yard line. Harper scored the 1-yard running touchdown to put Bay Area up 44-23 after the extra-point attempt was blocked.

The Sugar Skulls got the ball and returned it to the 16-yard line with 4:46 left in the game.

Mitchell loaded up a deep ball and found CJ Tate for a 34-yard touchdown pass with just over four minutes to go.

Mitchell ran in the 2-point conversion to make the game closer at 44-31 with 4:06 left.

Neither team scored after that and Bay Area took a knee to run the clock out with just 50 seconds left.

Mitchell finished 10-for-21 with three touchdowns and one interception. He also led Tucson in rushing yards with 48 yards on eight rushes with a touchdown.

CJ Tate ended with two catches, 43 yards and one touchdown. Marshall had four catches for 31 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Carrigan caught three passes for 36 yards.

The Sugar Skulls’ next game is Thursday, when it will play at the San Antonio Gunslingers at 4:30 p.m.

Tucson will be back at the TCC on April 27 to play the Northern Arizona Wranglers at 6:05 p.m.

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