Tucson Sugar Skulls

Tucson Sugar Skulls snap four-game losing streak, upset undefeated Vegas Knight Hawks

Robert Sheffield and Ahmad Lyons gang tackle a Knight Hawk receiver in an emphatic showing of the defense (Gilbert Alcaraz/Special to AllSportsTucson.com)

The Tucson Sugar Skulls stared face-to-face at a tremendous obstacle that stood in front of them — the unbeaten Vegas Knight Hawks, who were 7-0 — and did not bat an eye.

The franchise had one of its most significant wins in its five years of operation, upsetting the Knight Hawks 51-50 in a thrilling overtime win at the Tucson Convention Center on Saturday night.

Last week, the TCC stands looked more like a funeral procession after the Sugar Skulls (2-5) suffered a loss to the Arizona Rattlers, extending their losing streak to four games.

This Saturday, the Tucson faithful were rejuvenated, jumping up and down in exuberance after running back Mike Jones scored the game-winning two-point conversion to snap the losing streak.

“Eliminating mistakes, having fun, trusting each other, things that make any good team good,” quarterback Mylik Mitchell said on what the difference was on this Saturday compared to previous weeks.

“For me personally, I had another week of practice to run around and get back to throwing the ball to my guys and the new guys on the team. So, just a bunch of things that we did better today that we haven’t been doing the past few weeks.”

Vegas — averaging 52.6 points per a game under former Tucson coach Hurtis Chinn, the Knight Hawks’ offensive coordinator — was held to 43 points in four quarters of football due to huge stops made by Tucson’s aggressive defense.

“As a defense, we try to make teams score under 30 points,” defensive back Robert Sheffield said. “We weren’t satisfied with that today.”

Mitchell and Brian Smith continued to show why they are a combination that is not to be taken lightly.

In just two games with the Sugar Skulls, Smith has caught four touchdown passes from Mitchell, the first one setting the tempo for the offense in the first quarter.

“(He’s) a big body,” Mitchell said on the play of Smith. “(He) goes after the ball, that’s all I can ask for as a quarterback.”

The Sugar Skulls managed to gain 11 yards on its final drive of the game, forcing Tucson to go for a field goal with eight seconds to spare.

The 48-yard field goal was short, ending regulation with a 43-43 tie.

Tucson won the overtime coin toss and elected for Vegas to have the ball first. The Knight Hawks’ drive began at the Tucson 20-yard line and ended with Jorge Reyna rushing into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown, putting Vegas in the lead at 50-43.

Mitchell generated 12 yards on two rushing plays before a couple of penalties on Vegas propelled Tucson to the Knight Hawks’ 2.

Jones was given the ball on first and goal and found the end zone from five yards, putting Tucson within one point of tying the game again.

Players on the field, including Mitchell, Jones, Smith and others were seen flashing the “two” sign with their fingers at Tucson coach Billy Back, indicating the two-point conversion call that they wanted.

“I was gonna kick it and go to second overtime,” Back said. “Then I looked over at the bench and all the coaches, Mylik and everybody, Mike Jones yelling, ‘Go for two, go for the win.’ Mike Jones said, ‘Run the same play.'”

Jones was given the ball on the crucial play and made the absolute most of it, breezing past Vegas defenders to cross the end zone, ending the game with a 51-50 win.

Getting off to a fast start has been a lingering issue for Tucson, making it that much more important to do so against Vegas.

Back believes that a change in play calling is how Tucson was able to get into a faster start.

“It was important,” Back said. “The last couple games, the play calls I made weren’t to get into rhythm and we tried to get our guys into rhythm (Saturday night). (Running back Devonte) Sapp-Lynch came in there and lit (Tucson up), Mike Jones ran the hell out of the ball. The catch that Brian Smith had, Mike Carrigan had a great game, just spreading the ball around making plays.

“The offensive line did pretty well. We moved the line of scrimmage tonight. The 2-point conversion with Mike Jones was just all will. They all believed in each other and they put it in the endzone.”

Tucson won the toss and elected to defer its selection to the second half. Vegas chose to receive the ball for the start of the first quarter.

Vegas got within 15 yards of a touchdown before the Tucson defense caused Ja’Rome Johnson to fumble and put the offense on the 5-yard line.

Sheffield felt like the fumble is what gained momentum for Tucson.

“We wanted to start out fast, which we did,” Sheffield said. “We got that fumble and after that we just wanted to execute after that. It turned us up a notch with the momentum and we just had to keep going the next play.”

Mitchell connected to a wide open Smith on the first play of the drive to put Tucson up early by a score of 6-0 with 9:31 left in the first quarter.

Vegas returned the kick to the Tucson 22 and took only two plays to answer back with a touchdown.

Vegas quarterback Ja’Rome Johnson ran in the quarterback run four yards, putting the Knight Hawks up 7-6 with 1:49 left in the first quarter.

Tucson returned the kickoff to the Vegas 19 and couldn’t manage to get any farther. Former Sahuaro High School and Pima College athlete Demitri Fotinos was called on for the 3-point try and was successful, putting the Sugar Skulls back up with a 9-7 score.

The high-octane Vegas offense answered back in four plays to put it back on top 14-9 with a minute to go in the first quarter.

Tucson ran Vegas’ kick back to its 18 to set up the next drive. Mitchell took it himself on first down and five to go and ran it across the endzone to put the Sugar Skulls back on top 16-14 with 12 minutes left in the half.

Tucson stuffed the Knight Hawks twice on fourth down to prevent a score, but a handful of unsportsmanlike conduct and illegal player calls kept Vegas’ drive alive and put them within the 1-yard line.

Johnson eventually punched it in to retake the lead at 21-16 with 5:00 left in the half.

Sheffield said that the key to staying successful on defense, despite making errors, was to focus on the next play.

“As a defensive player, next play,” Sheffield said. “We cant think about that play because it might effect us on the next play. It’s just learning and lesson learned.”

Tucson began its drive at its own 12 and took its time in a game in which both teams scored in short increments.

The Sugar Skulls marched all the way down to the Vegas 1, where Mitchell ran it in for his second rushing touchdown of the game.

The score, accompanied by the extra-point, put Tucson up 23-21 with 40 seconds to play.

A bad kick gave Vegas incredible field position at the Tucson 10-yard line, increasing the Knight Hawks’ chances at another quick touchdown.

Vegas did not squander that opportunity and scored on the third play of the drive. Johnson found Antonio Wimbush in the endzone to take the lead back at 28-23 with 21 seconds left in the half.

The Mitchell-Smith connection continued to prove to be lethal once again in the first half.

Mitchell found Smith 20 yards down the field and connected with him to take the narrow 1-point lead at 29-28 following the failed 2-point conversion with eight seconds left in the half.

Vegas attempted a field goal kick, but it was missed and the Sugar Skulls went into the locker room with a slim lead.

The Sugar Skulls received the ball to open the second half and did not get far. Mitchell’s pass was intercepted on third down and taken back to the Vegas 24.

Wimbush took the handoff and punched it in to put the Sugar Skulls back in the hole at 35-29 with 7:54 to play in the third quarter.

Mitchell credited his teammates keeping him on track after the interception.

“I just keep on trusting my guys,” Mitchell said. “It’s a play when we weren’t on the same page, me and my receiver. All I got to do is keep going out there and trusting the coach to call a good play for me and my receivers to be in the right spot. That’s probably a pass I should just throw out of bounds, I threw it into a window I probably shouldn’t have.”

Tucson attempted a field goal to lessen its deficit on the next drive, but it was missed and Vegas returned it to its 20.

Defensive back Ahmad Lyons came up huge at the end of the third quarter.

Johnson threw a long pass in search of Caleb Holley, but it was too much and Lyons picked it off just beyond the wall to put Tucson at its own 3.

Tucson went 42 yards down the field in seven plays and capped the drive off with a 5-yard rushing touchdown by Jones, putting the Sugar Skulls back in the lead at 36-35 with 13:00 to play.

Vegas answered back with a long 44-yard drive of its own to take the lead back.

Reyna ran in the 2-yard rushing touchdown and passed for the 2-point conversion to go up 43-36 with 7:28 left to play.

Tucson immediately tied it on the kickoff largely due to a miraculous bounce that ended up in the hands of MJ Harris.

Harris ran along the wall and avoided multiple tackles to take it 23 yards into the end zone, making it a tie ball game at 43 apiece with 6:29 remaining.


Vegas’ next drive was stopped on its own 15 and its field goal attempt was missed to the left with 1:08 minutes left to play.


Tucson got the ball back on its own 5-yard line after Vegas’ previous kick sailed out of bounds, leaving the Sugar Skulls with almost an entire field to drive.

The missed field goal at the end of regulation and the dramatic two-point conversion for the Sugar Skulls’ victory followed.

Mitchell finished 8 for 17 with 130 yards and two touchdowns. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 10 attempts for 37 yards and two touchdowns.

Jones had four carries for 19 yards and two touchdowns. Sapp-Lynch got three carries for 22 yards.

Smith led the receiving corps with three catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Marshall caught two passes for 25 yards. Carrigan also caught two balls for 20 yards.

Sheffield led the defense in tackles with five solo and four assisted with a pass breakup. Lyons finished with four total tackles, a pass breakup and an interception.

Both Jaylen Parks and D’jimon Brooks finished with a sack.

The Tucson Sugar Skulls will travel to Prescott Valley next Saturday to take on the Northern Arizona Wranglers in hopes of coming out on top against them for the first time this season.

Tucson lost to the Wranglers 54-48 in the season opener and 34-32 at home in the fifth game of the season.

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