Fresh off their first bye in two months, the Tucson Sugar Skulls will return to action Saturday.
There’s plenty to play for: Tucson (6-6) will take on the league-leading Arizona Rattlers (12-0) on Saturday night in Phoenix with their sights set on making the playoffs. The Rattlers recently routed the Skulls 62-47 at Tucson Arena. Tucson trailed by as many as 23 points to fall to 0-3 this year in the in-state rivalry.
“Arizona came out with the gameplan, ‘We’re going to play bully ball.’ We didn’t accept the challenge until the second half,” said Sugar Skulls quarterback Jake Medlock, who threw for five touchdowns in the loss. “When you play the Rattlers, you have to be perfect because you know they’re going to be perfect so we have to attack it like they do.”
Here’s a look at the postseason picture and other notes from around the Indoor Football League:
Playoff picture: Tucson sits in fifth place in the IFL standings; the top six teams make the playoffs. Win its final two regular-season games, and Tucson is in — possibly as a first-round host.
Win one game, or go 0-2, and things get murky.
Tucson is one game ahead of the Nebraska Danger and Quad City Steamwheelers, both of whom are 5-7 this season. While the Sugar Skulls will play at the undefeated Rattlers, the Danger and Steamwheelers have an easier time: Nebraska will play on the road in San Diego on Thursday, while the Steamwheelers host the Bismarck Bucks. San Diego and Bismarck are a combined 3-21 this season.
Both the Danger and Steamwheelers own tiebreakers against Tucson. The Skulls’ regular-season finale against Quad City at Tucson Arena could determine which of the two teams makes the playoffs.
“We need to do everything we can to win these last two games. … We’re not going to look down the road and look at scenarios,” Tucson coach Marcus Coleman said. “We’re focused on winning, and whatever happens after that, happens.”
Tucson can still host a playoff game, if things break right. The team would have to go 2-0 down the stretch, and the Green Bay Blizzard would have to lose its final two games.
Medlock on hosting a playoff game in Tucson: “Man, it would mean a lot especially to me because I’ve missed the playoffs the last two, three years. It would mean a lot to this community because the Tucson fans have showed up to games every week, filled up the stands and they deserve it more.”
Punch ’em right back: The Sugar Skulls have allowed multiple opponents to rally from second-half deficits this season. That wasn’t the case two weekends ago, when the Rattlers took a 21-9 lead early in the second half and never looked back.
“They were the more physical team that night,” said Coleman. “On both sides of the ball, they bullied us a little bit. I told the guys after the game, ‘Even if you do get hit in the face, you gotta punch someone right back and fight back a little harder.’”
Facing the MVP again: Rattlers quarterback Drew Powell is arguably the top offensive weapon in the IFL. Powell scored seven touchdowns and completed 13 of 15 passes for 180 yards when the teams met two weeks ago. He was efficient in last week’s 56-0 win over Cedar Rapids, completing 4 of 6 passes for 70 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 38 yards and a score. The Rattlers ran just 28 offensive plays; 19 of them were rushing attempts.
Powell’s confidence is what separates him from the other quarterbacks Tucson has faced this season, Coleman said.
“In his mind, he feels like — and he plays like — he’s the best player in the room without a doubt,” Coleman said. “You can see it in warmups, you can see it when he’s sitting on the ground or drinking water. He feels like he can drink the water the best out of anyone in the room. That’s his mindset.
“He continues to show that — and until we can get some guys to adopt some of that, we’re always going to struggle and it’s always going to be uphill.
“For him as a quarterback, when you have that mindset and when you play like it, naturally everyone follows. … That’s what makes him special.”
Postseason relocation for Rattlers: The Rattlers have already secured a first-round playoff bye. When they host a playoff game, it’ll be in Glendale. The team announced Monday that it will play postseason games at Gila River Arena instead of Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix. The Rattlers’ longtime home arena is hosting the Native American Basketball Invitational on June 29 and a Nazarene youth conference on July 13.
“Unfortunately, after being in our building for 27 years, the Rattlers do not get first priority for playoff dates,” Rattlers coach and general manager Kevin Guy said, according to The Arizona Republic.
“My understanding is that other events took precedence. We will embrace the opportunity to play in Gila River Arena … The Rattlers will play anyone, anywhere, anytime, and the Rattlers faithful will follow.”
If playoffs began this week, the winner of the Green Bay-Tucson game would play against the Rattlers in the IFL semifinals, to be held June 29. The Rattlers will host the United Bowl if it both advances to the title game and holds a better record than its opponent.