TUCSON, Arizona – The Tucson Sugar Skulls got a two-fer on Saturday. They avenged arguably their most distasteful loss of the season, and in doing so punched their ticket to the Indoor Football League playoffs with a 55-50 victory over the Quad City Steamwheelers.
The game, before a crowd of 5,018 on Fan Appreciation Night at Tucson Arena, pitted two 6-7 teams with the winner earning a playoff spot. A loss by the Sugar Skulls and their season would be over. Quad City handed Tucson a 72-54 loss in April scoring on every offensive possession in that game.
The Sugar Skulls got the early momentum and led 20-7 after the first quarter. But Quad City came all the way back to lead 28-27 at the intermission, helped by a kickoff that deflected off a Sugar Skulls player and was recovered by the Steamwheelers. The play led to the go-ahead touchdown right before halftime.
The Sugar Skulls had the first possession of the second half and used the third quarter to regain and widen their lead, scoring three unanswered touchdowns for a 48-28 lead. Running back Mike Jones and quarterback Matt Behrendt, who was called on to start for JakeMedlock who suffered a toe injury last week, combined to rush for 114 yards and three touchdowns in the second half to build the lead. Jones had three touchdowns in the game while Behrendt ran for two and threw for two.
Interceptions by Dee Maggitt Jr. and Edward Burns, and fumble forced and recovered by Keith Jones Jr. were key stops by the Sugar Skulls' defense and each led to a touchdown.
The Sugar Skulls pushed the lead to 55-34 midway through the fourth quarter, but theSteamwheelers weren't through, cutting the score to 55-50 with one minute left in the game. However, Tucson was able to hold on to the ball in its last possession to run out the clock and set the stage for a playoff run.
"We knew Quad City wasn't going back down. They had been on a run and had been playing well so we knew it was going to be tough," said Head Coach Marcus Coleman. "We're more proud and more happy for the players and everybody else in that locker room, they've been working their butts off all year and we got the first rewards of hopefully many."
The Sugar Skulls now set their sights on the playoffs and their opponent, the Sioux Falls Storm, who enter as the No. 3 seed with an 11-3 record. The two teams did not meet in the regular season. The game is set for Sunday, June 23, at 1 p.m., Tucson time, at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The winner will face the No. 2 seed Iowa Barnstormers the following weekend in Des Moines, Iowa.