(Tucson, AZ) It all came down to a winner take all scenario in the Bone Yard at the Tucson Convention Center; home of the Sugar Skulls.
If the Skulls won the game, they would be on the road for the first round of the IFL Playoffs next Sunday at Sioux Falls South Dakota.
Quad City won the toss and elected to receive. They drove down the field with ease and scored on a quarterback keeper from EJ Hilliard from the four yard line. Steamwheelers up quickly 7-0.
Tucson on its first possession had a carbon copy of the Quad City drive as Sugar Skulls signal caller Matt Behrendt also took it three yard out for the tying score and the game was knotted at 7-7.
In the first two possessions of the contest, defense was absent on both sides of the field.
The Skulls defense did tightened up on the next drive as Quad City was stopped at the Tucson twelve yard line and missed a go ahead field goal attempt.
The Sugar Skulls took advantage of the missed opportunity as Behrendt rifled a laser pass ten yards down the field and wideout Rico Brown did the rest on running into the end zone to complete a thirty two yard scoring play that brought the crowd to their feet and a Skulls lead 14-7 to end the first quarter.
The Steamwheelers had almost twice the time of possession at 9:31 to Tucson’s 5:29. Consequently, the Sugar Skulls had nearly a two-to-one edge in total yards 84-47.
Tucson opened the second quarter with Mike Jones slipping a tackle in the backfield to scamper into the end zone from five yards out to extend the lead 20-7. The extra point was wide.
Quad City fought back as they cut the lead to 20-14 on Zavier Steward two yard run.
Tucson had a drive going with a nice gain on a run by Shad Thornton off of a fake field goal, but an unsportsmanlike conduct play took it back fifteen yard. Two plays later, Jones again with a nice move past a would be tackler went eleven yards to score again and pad the lead to 27-14.
That was short lived as the Steamwheelers marched down the field and cut the lead back to single digits 27-21 when Zach Minch caught a short pass from the one yard line from Hilliard.
On the ensuing kickoff the ball hit a Sugar Skulls player and was recovered by Quad City. In an instant, the Tucson lead was gone as Quinton Pedroza caught a eight yard pass and Quad City led at the half 28-27.
The Sugar Skulls “M.O.” all season has been lack of a killer instinct. When they’ve had double digit leads, instead of keeping the pressure on the opponent, they let them back in the game and subsequently end up with a loss or a close win.
Coach Marcus Coleman made his halftime adjustments and it showed on the first possession of the second half as Tucson scored with ease off a ten yard Behrendt pass to retake the lead 34-28.
Skulls defesive back Edward Burns intercepted a Hilliard pass to give the ball back to the Tucson offense where on quarterback keeper off a fake handoff Behrdent snuck around the right side to get back to a double digit lead at 41-28.
On their third attempt from inside the five yard line, Quad City attempted a quarterback sneak and Skulls defensive lineman Keith Jones Jr stripped the ball away from Hilliard and ran it back halfway to the twenty five yard line. That was the defensive stop Tucson needed to maintain momentum with just over four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Quad City’s Kewan Alfred sustained some type of neck or head injury and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher at the four minute mark.
After play resumed, Jones again scored for the Sugar Skulls to give Tucson a twenty point lead 48-28. The killer instinct that had been missing for most of this inaugural season seemed to present when it counted. Win or go home.
The Steamwheelers had to dig down and show their resolve after the Alfred injury. At the end of three quarters Tucson maintained their twenty point lead 48-28.
The first play of the final period, Quad City scored on a run by quarterback Hilliard to cut the lead 48-34. Question on the Steamwheeler resolve ‘answered.”
Tucson’s next drive was very methodic as they kept the ball on the ground coupled with penalties and timeouts still had 9:24 left on the clock in the fourth quarter.
Out of the timeout, Behrendt faked a handoff and went around the right side for a huge gains and more yardage was added on a personal foul on Quad City. With the ball indie the five yard line, Behrendt took matters into his own hands and went right up the middle into the end zone. Now with a twenty one point lead 55-34, the Skulls looked to be in total command.
The Steamwheelers tried to make things interesting with 3:50 left as Hilliard scored a touchdown, followed by wideout Keyvan Rudd’s hurdle over the Tucson defense for the two point conversion to cut the deficit to 55-42.
The ensuing onside kick was revered by the Sugar Skulls and advanced to the seven yard line. The next play, Tucson inexplicably fumbled the ball and the door that was supposed to be slammed shut remained open, albeit only a crack with 2;50 left.
Once again, the Tucson defense letdown and allowed Quad City to score again on a Jones two yard reception and now with a minute left, the Sugar Skulls clung to a five point lead 55-50. Shades of last week against the Rattlers where Tucson lost in the final minute 50-49.
Tucson ran out the last remaining seconds of the game and won 55-50. The Skulls are headed for the playoffs in their first season to Sioux City next Sunday. The game can be seen on the IFL YouTube Channel.
The second highest crowd of the season of 5,018 saw the historic first season Sugar Skulls make the IFL Playoffs.