(Tucson, AZ) The Sugar Skulls (1-3) returned back home to the friendly confines of the Boneyard after a wild affair up north in Phoenix last week.
After a slow start, the offense woke up and came back to lead the Arizona Rattlers before falling 44-34.
Tucson came in ranked 6th in total offense but 10th in scoring offense in the IFL. The strength of this team so far has been the defense which is in the top half of the league (4th).
The focus going into the game was Wide Receiver Ryan Ballantine who only needed 36 yards to become the IFL’s all time carrier yardage leader.
The Massachusetts Pirates (3-3) came in off a 40-33 loss to first place Frisco Fighters
Both teams had little success to begin the game. The Skulls just missed a Daniel Bowen 45 yard field goal attempt at the 5:05 mark.
The Pirates struck first with 2:08 left in the opening quarter on a 30 yard sideline rout to Wideout Laquvionte Gonzalez from quarterback Sean Brackett to go up 7-0.
Tucson came right back and scored on a Demry Croft to Ryan Balentine fifteen yards out to tie the score at 7-7 just before the quarter ended.
Pirate kicker Josh Gable put his foot into a 50 yard field goal to put Massachusetts back on top 10-7 with just under twelve minutes in the second quarter.
Skulls back on offense drove the ball down to the Pirates seven yard line. Three plays later, Mike Jones powered into the end zone from the three yards out and Tucson regained the lead 14-10 with 5:44 left in the half.
The game had turned into a track meet after the sluggish start, but a Skulls’ key defensive stop forced a Pirate field goal from twenty seven yards out to cut Tucson’s lead to 14-13 with a shade over a minute left in the first half.
Tucson wasn’t finished as they drove back down the field, but a Bowen 27 yard field goal attempt sailed just wide to the left and that’s how the half ended.
The Sugar Skulls took the second half kick off and off the first play from scrimmage Croft found Balentine open deep at the Pirate’s five yard line. One play later, Jones took a swing pass in for the score. The extra point was missed, so Tucson only had a seven point lead 20-13.
The Pirates took advantage of the missed PAT and scored quickly on the following possession. With their extra point the game was now tied at 20-20.
Croft took things into his own hands on the Skulls next drive with several keepers that led to a touchdown and Tucson broke the tie 27-20.
The up and down action continued with Massachusetts’ quarterback Bennifield scored off a sneak to tie the game agains at 27-27 to end the third quater.
The ensuing kickoff hit a Sugar Skull player and bounced forward where the Pirates recovered, but on their own one yard line. Fortunately for Massachusetts a key third down pass to the twenty three got them out of the shadows of their own end zone.
That lapse on defense by the Skulls is all that Bennifield need as the scored from a yard out
That possession was key as in now Tucson had to play catch up and not maintain the lead. With 9:24 left in the game, the Pirates led 34-27.
Again, Croft brought the team back down and had a first and goal from the one yard line, but the next play he fumbled the ball and gave the possession back to the Pirates.
That was the break one needed as both offenses had opened it up in the second half.
The defense held and the Pirates’ field goal was just wide right that gave the Skulls new life with 1:44 left in the game.
Once again, Croft had the offense on pointe and from the one yard line he took it in over the left tackle to tie the game back up 34-34 with just forty eight seconds left.
Tucson’s kick off was a touchback and the IFL rules put the ball on the twenty five yard line which is midfield.
Massachusetts got the ball to the twenty two yard line with six seconds left, Two motion penalties on the Pirates backed it up ten yards to the eighteen. The Hail Mary pass was long and caused both the receiver and the safety to hit the wall hard as they both went down in pain.
With three seconds left, the forty eight yard field goal was good and that was all she wrote as the visiting Pirates win on the last play 37-34.
The two key plays that sunk the Sugar Skulls were when they had Massachusetts on their own one yard line with a third and ten and allowed the big pass play to not only keep the drive alive, but put the Pirates in great field possession and eventually scored the go ahead touchdown.
The second play the very next possession where Tucson had driven the length of the field only to fumble at the three yard line and instead of tying the game, gave the ball back with precious time left in the game.
Tucson had their chances, but just as last week in Phoenix let the lead and the game slip away.
Lack of execution on the offense and the defensive secondary giving up too many big plays at critical times in the game are things that Coach Dixie Wooten will no doubt address this week in practice.
The bright spot for Tucson was that Ryan Ballantine’s forty six yards receiving became the all time leading yardage receiver in IFL history.
Tonight’s attendance was 3,119.
The Sugar Skulls (1-4) can right the ship next week as they travel to Prescott to face the winless Northern Arizona Wranglers.