Tucson Sugar Skulls

Tucson Sugar Skulls lose third straight game with 34-31 loss to Northern Arizona Wranglers

Jalin Marshall snags a touchdown pass with just one hand in the end zone. He scored two touchdowns on Saturday (Gilbert Alcaraz/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

The Tucson Sugar Skulls scored 24 points in the second half while only allowing 11 points, but their slow starts still proved too much to overcome, as they dropped their third consecutive game in a 34-31 loss to the Northern Arizona Wranglers at the Tucson Convention Center on Saturday night.

“We lost. Yeah, we played better in the second half, but if we wouldn’t have played bad in the first half we wouldn’t have lost,” Tucson coach Billy Back said. “We had wide open receivers and just missed catches. The defense gave up 11 points in the second half and I think we played pretty solid. We just gotta be better on offense.”

Tucson (1-3) had to play against Northern Arizona (4-1) without its first- and second-string quarterbacks, Mylik Mitchell and Torrance Gibson, due to injuries, and signed Limestone University graduate Tasleem Wilson just two days prior to the game.

The first half proved a shaky one for Wilson, but once he got settled in, the offense was much more simpler for him.

“We just had to talk as players, we just wanted to simplify some things,” Wilson said. “Just get a groove going. I felt like we had a good balance of pass and run in that second half. We get a pass to get us down the field, and then we take it in with a run. I’m all for that; that’s complementary football.”

Back was satisfied with Wilson’s performance, despite the short time to get fully acclimated to the team.

“Taz (Wilson) did a great job for us,” Back said. “He found the right receivers. If we gotta go with Taz, I feel confidant with Taz next week as well.”

Tucson had multiple opportunities to score in the first half, but costly penalties and missed plays ultimately cost it the game.

Back pointed to the lack of having a starting quarterback for the recent slow starts for the Sugar Skulls.

“We’re just missing our starting quarterback,” Back said. “Mylik’s one of the best quarterbacks in this game, and we’re not having him.”

Tucson chose to receive the ball to start the game off and returned it 11 yards to its own 14.

The Sugar Skulls got as far as the Northern Arizona 15 before a penalty set it back to the 25-yard line.

A field goal was attempted after a 4-yard pass completion to Mike Jones, but it was blocked and set the Wranglers at its 20-yard line.

Northern Arizona marched down and scored from the Tucson 7-yard line. Joshua Jones connected with Kobay White for the touchdown, putting the Wranglers up 7-0 after the extra point with 4:43 in the first quarter.

Tucson caught a lucky break after Wilson’s pass was intercepted by Travion Banks at the 1-yard line. A forced fumble by Jalin Marshall at the 16 gave the Sugar Skulls a fresh set of downs.

Nothing came out of the second-chance opportunity with only 6 yards gained. Wilson tried to find his receivers to convert to first down, but the Wrangler defense was too stout. They got the ball back at their own 10 after a fourth-down incompletion.

Northern Arizona capitalized off of the fourth-down conversion and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown pass, putting the Sugar Skulls in a deeper deficit at 13-0 after the PAT kick was fumbled with 11:02 remaining in the half.

Tucson finally shook off the dust and answered back with a touchdown. Wilson connected with Jones on a 16-yard pass play to bring the offense to the Wranglers’ 1-yard line. Jones then ran the ball in to shorten the lead to 13-7 with 7:20 left in the first half.

Northern Arizona drove all the way to Tucson’s 4-yard line before an incomplete pass converted the ball back to the Sugar Skulls.

The Sugar Skulls’ drive stalled out on their 12-yard line, leaving the Wranglers with a short field to score.

The Wranglers ran a quarterback keeper 12 yards into the end zone on their second play, making it a 20-7 game with 37 seconds left in the first half.

Tucson tried to get one more score off before halftime, but Wilson’s pass was intercepted on the third play and returned to Tucson’s 13-yard line with 10 seconds left.

Northern Arizona missed its first try at a field goal, but an illegal formation penalty, followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct call, both by Tucson, put the Wranglers at the 3-yard line for an easier try.

The 3-point attempt was good and the Sugar Skulls went into halftime down 23-7.

Northern Arizona got the ball to start the half and drove all the way to the Tucson 4-yard line. Tucson made a huge defensive stop on fourth down to get the ball back in the same spot.

The Sugar Skulls took full advantage of that stop and drove the ball all the way to the Northern Arizona 11-yard line, where Wilson would hand it off to Mike Carrigan for the second Sugar Skulls touchdown of the game.


Jones’ 2-point run attempt was stuffed, making it 23-13 with 6:23 left in the third quarter.

Northern Arizona started the next drive at its 16-yard line and held firm control of the ball for the remaining 5:26 of the third quarter before punching it in at the beginning of the fourth.

Jones connected with Gene Coleman II for the 2-point conversion, digging Tucson in a deeper 31-13 hole with 14:24 left in the game.

Demario McCall received the kick off and set the Sugar Skulls up with some nice field position at the Northern Arizona 23-yard line.

Marshall was credited with Tucson’s third touchdown of the game as he ran it 14 yards to the end zone on the second play of the drive, making it 31-19 after the 2-point attempt was denied with 12:34 remaining.


Northern Arizona would kick a 22-yard field goal to make it 34-19 after stalling on the Tucson 5-yard line with 8:23 to play.

Wilson connected to McCall for a 30-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the Sugar Skulls’ next drive, shortening the Sugar Skulls’ deficit at 34-25 following the failed 2-point conversion with 7:49 remaining in the game.


Northern Arizona began its next drive at the 25-yard line and traveled 13 yards before Tucson made the biggest stop of the game. Jaylen Parks dove in front of Jones’ pass to set the next Sugar Skulls drive up at their own 4-yard line with 2:35 left.


Wilson found Marshall on a 7-yard passing play to put Tucson within 34-31. The 2-point conversion was once again denied with 43 seconds left to play.


Tucson attempted an onside kick, but it was quickly scooped up by Northern Arizona’s Gurvan Hall Jr. The offense ran a couple rushing plays before settling into victory formation, ending Tucson’s chances at a comeback.

Wilson finished his first start in Tucson 15 for 31 for165 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

McCall had two catches for 64 yards and a touchdown. Carrigan had four catches for 49 yards and a rushing touchdown. Jones snagged five catches for 37 yards to go with his six rushes for 25 and a touchdown.

Marshall had two catches for 12 yards, three rushes for 27 and two touchdowns..

The Tucson Sugar Skulls will have some time to get fully healthy and make improvements with the upcoming bye week.

They will be back at the TCC to take on the Arizona Rattlers on May 11 at 6:05 p.m.

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