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They began the season as newcomers to the Indoor Football League, brand new franchises, unfamiliar with each other, and unfamiliar with themselves.

Nine games into their first seasons, the TucsonSugar Skulls and San Diego Strike Force are now-old counterparts as they prepare to face each other for the fourth time, and a second time in five days. The two teams will square off for the final time Thursday at Pechanga Arena. Kickoff is 7 p.m.Pacific and Arizona time.

The Sugar Skulls have had the better of the fledgling rivalry, winning all three games by an average of just over 20 points. The Sugar Skulls on, 54-34, on Saturday in Tucson. Head CoachMarcus Coleman cautions that beating a team four times in a season won’t be easy for Tucson, which currently sits in sixth place in the IFL, holding the last post-season playoff spot.

“It’s a challenge because they’re as familiar with us as we are with them,” Coleman said.“Regardless of what a team’s record is and what struggles they may be facing, it’s hard to beat a team three, four, five times in a row. It just is.

”The Sugar Skulls arrive ranked second in the IFL in total offense and with an improving defense since giving up 72 points in an April 20 loss to the Quad City Steamwheelers. Tucson lost an April 27 heartbreaker to the Iowa Barnstormers by three points on a controversial no-call on an Iowa touchdown with seven seconds left to play. They snapped a four-game losing streak and allowed a season-low 163 yards to the Strike Force last week.

“We had a lot better communication,” Coleman said after Saturday’s victory. “We all worked hard on getting them ready and they did a good job of putting in the work, studying and understanding what San Diego did.”

The Sugar Skulls defense got a boost from a newcomer, defensive back Kasey Johnson, who led the team with seven tackles including a tackle for a loss. Cam Gaddis collected his third interception of the season and now leads the team in that category.

Official Game Notes

2019 Sugar Skulls Game Notes   Game 10   San Diego Page 01

TUCSON, Arizona – The Tucson SugarSkulls ended a four-game losing streak and put themselves in control of their playoff fate with a 54-34 victory over theSan Diego Strike Force before a crowd of 4,075 at Tucson Arena on Saturday.

The Sugar Skulls hadn’t seen the win column since late March, the last time they played the Strike Force. But the victory, combined with a loss by the QuadCity Steamwheelers put Tucson in sole possession of sixth place which is the final playoff spot.“It’s a new season every week now,” said head Coach Marcus Coleman. “We have an opportunity to win some games and continue to keep us in the playoff hunt.

As long as we keep coming out and taking care of business, we should be okay.”The Sugar Skulls blazed out of the starting box when Jeremiah Harris, playing in his first professional football game, returned the opening kickoff 39 yards to the Strike Force 11. It took the sugar Skulls only one play to score when quarterback Jake Medlock connected with Rico Brown for a touchdown, the first of three TD catches for Brown.

The Strike Force answered with a touchdown, but Harris sparked the Sugar Skulls again with a kick return to the San Diego 13. Medlock connected with Brown again to put the Sugar Skulls back on top. Tucson then put up 27 points in the second quarter on the way to a 41-21 halftime lead and they were not threatened the rest of the way. The Sugar Skulls defense stiffened in the second half, holding San Diego scoreless in the third quarter, and Tucson led 47-21 headed to the fourth.“For the most part, we covered well. We tackled well. There were no blown assignments,” Coleman said of his defense. “I thought we had a decent night.”Medlock ran the offense until late in the third quarter, completing 14 of 20 passes for 90 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for two touchdowns.

The two teams will make a quick turnaround and face each other again on Thursday in San Diego. It will be the last of four meetings between the two teams this season. The Sugar Skulls have won all three meetings.  Malique Belfort celebrates his third-quarter touchdown that gave the Sugar Skulls a 47-21 lead.

Notes & Numbers

• Jeremiah Harris joined the team on Monday and made an immediate impact with three kick returns for 105 yards, each time giving the Sugar Skulls possession inside the San Diego 20-yard line. After the three returns, the Strike Force elected to not give him any more opportunities and the remaining kickoffs all went out of play giving the Sugar Skulls field position at midfield.

• Another newcomer, defensive back Kasey Johnson led the team with seven tackles including one tackle for a loss.

• Defensive back Cam Gaddis returned to the lineup after sitting out last week and grabbed his third interception of the season. He now leads the team in that category.

• Shaq Curenton stretched his team lead in touchdown catches with a TD catch from Medlock in the second quarter. He now has 11.

2019 Sugar Skulls Post Game Notes   Game 9   San Diego Page 01

TUCSON, Arizona – The opportunity to shock the TUCSON, Arizona – The opportunity to shock theIndoor Football presented itself to the TucsonSugar Skulls on Saturday at the Tucson Arena.

But in the end, an upset of the defending league champion Iowa Barnstormers by the expansionSugar Skulls fell short in a 61-58 loss before a crowd of 2,775.

The Sugar Skulls scored first and led for the first 58minutes and 52 seconds until a blocked field for a touchdown put the Barnstormers on top, 54-51. A touchdown pass on the first play of the SugarSkulls next possession – 28 yards from JakeMedlock to Shaq Curenton – swapped the lead but left Iowa enough time to score, which it did with7 seconds to play.

Iowa quarterback Daquan Neal led a 34-point fourth quarter to rally the Barnstormers. He threw five touchdown passes in the game and rushed for another two, including the winning score on a five-yard scramble. He was 19-of-26 passing for 265 yards.

The Sugar Skulls led most of the way with a balanced offensive attack finishing the game with over100 yards through the air and on ground. Medlock was an efficient 15-of-19 passing for 157 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for two touchdowns. Running back Mike Jones topped 100yards rushing for the first time this season, getting 109 yards on 21 carries. He scored three touchdowns, giving him 16 on the season.

The Sugar Skulls jumped to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter, stopping the Barnstormers on their first possession and holding them to a field goal the second time they had the ball. The teams essentially traded scores in the second quarter, and the Sugar Skulls headed to the locker room at halftime still holding a 31-20 lead after kicker Josh Gable nailed a 45-yard field goal on the last play of the half.

The fourth-quarter blocked field goal for a touchdown on a 46-yard attempt was the third time this season that the Sugar Skulls field goal team allowed a block for a score.

Head Coach Marcus Coleman said those types of mistakes are the ones the Sugar Skulls have to eliminate to win the close games that they haven’t been able to win this season. In their current four-game losing streak, the Sugar Skulls have now lost games by 14, 6 and 3. Two of those games had a blocked field goal for a touchdown.

“We’re still quite not there. We still haven’t matured enough to understand you can’t make those mistakes, especially against good teams,” Coleman said. “We need to figure out how to fix those mistakes and how to clean those things up.”

Despite the losing skid, the Sugar Skulls remain firmly in the playoff hunt, a half-game behind QuadCity for the sixth playoff spot. The Skulls look to end their losing streak at home next Saturdayagainst the San Diego Strike Force, a team they have already defeated twice this season, once athome and once on the road.

Post Game Notes

2019 Sugar Skulls Post Game Notes Game 8 Iowa Page 01

TUCSON, ARIZONA – When a team is on a three-game losing skid, the ideal remedy probably isn’t to take on the defending league champion to try to end it.

That’s the position the Sugar Skulls, 3-4, find themselves in as they await the arrival of the Iowa Barnstormers, 6-1, for a game abundant with back stories.

Sugar Skulls Head Coach Marcus Coleman and two of his assistants, Hurtis Chinn and Malcolm Nelson, were all assistants to Barnstormers Head Coach Dixie Wooten for their championship run last year.

Two Sugar Skulls players, linebacker Zach Allen and defensive lineman Keith Jones Jr., were part of that team. A third Skulls player, defensive back Dee Maggitt Jr., was an all-league player for the Barnstormers in 2017.

With the Sugar Skulls coming in with three straight losses, Coleman said he’s more concerned with just winning a game than with who it might be against.

“It won’t be any different than facing anybody else to tell you the truth,” he said this week. “You’ll talk to some of the guys. The coaches will talk. But I don’t think a victory will be any more special than any other because of where we are. We’re trying to get a win. There are no personal feelings about this. It’s all business.”

Costly turnovers and a porous defense last week have been the story of the losing streak. The Quad City Steamwheelers scored on every offensive possession in a 72-54 victory last week in Moline, Illinois. Turnovers were the difference in losses by six points and 14 points to the Nebraska Danger and Arizona Rattlers the previous two weeks.

“It’s mainly been execution,” Coleman said. “The effort is there, but it’s my job to have a plan in place. We’ve been making some changes and doing things differently. So far it’s been good. Guys have been moving around a lot faster, not thinking as much, just going out and playing.”

Notes & Numbers

  • The Sugar Skulls welcomed back 2018 All-IFL defensive lineman Keith Jones Jr. this week. Jones was invited to tryout for an Arena Football League team and returned to the Sugar Skulls after missing two games.
  • Despite missing a total of three games, Jones is still second on the team in tackles for loss with four. Zach Allen leads the team with 7.5.
  • Dee Maggitt Jr. earned his second player of the week honor this week when he was named for special teams. He had a 53-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the loss to the Steamwheelers.
  • Despite the losing streak, the Sugar Skulls’ offense remains atop the league in total yards with an average of 276 per game.
  • Running back Mike Jones is third in the league in rushing average with 53.5 yards per game. He leads the team with 13 touchdowns.

Here are the Game Notes

2019 Sugar Skulls Game Notes   Game 8   Iowa Page 01

 

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