The Tucson Sugar Skulls are slowly checking off all the boxes for their inaugural season in the Indoor Football League.
Final roster. Check. Uniforms. Check. First game. Check. First win. Check.
There are only two boxes left to check. Host the franchise’s first game at Tucson Arena, and win a game at home.
At least one of the boxes will be filled out following the Sugar Skulls’ Sunday afternoon contest against the Bismarck Bucks (0-1).
The game kicks off at 3 p.m. at Tucson Arena, but the fun will start well before then. At 1 p.m., the team will host a free tailgate party outside the arena featuring a beer garden and party games.
“It sets the tone for the season, and we have a lot of things going on around the game that’s going to be fan-friendly,” said Sugar Skulls owner Kevin Guy. “Two hours before the game, we’re going to have two live bands, face painting will be going on and someone will be making balloons for the kids. … We’re going to have an event around the game.”
Add coach Marcus Coleman to the list of people excited for the home debut.
“It’s the first home game in team history, and we’re having people come out and see what we’re like in person,” Coleman said. “Not only see us, but see a game. You might get your favorite player in your lap depending on what the play is.
“I’m really looking forward to it, and I’m looking forward to us being home and putting on a good show in front of the hometown folks.”
The Sugar Skulls aren’t letting the moment overtake the task at hand. The atmosphere around the game is important, but a win is what matters most. (Plus, fans tend to like winning.)
“Every game is the same. First away game, first in history, first at home, every game is the same. You always gotta prepare and go in and execute the gameplan,” linebacker Zach Allen said. “It’s a big one — don’t get me wrong — with it being the first home game, but to me, I approach every game the same.”
Allen led the Sugar Skulls with nine tackles in last week’s 65-44 win over the San Diego Strike Force. Tucson’s defense was at its best in the second half, limiting San Diego to 38 net yards and one offensive touchdown.
The showing “definitely meant a lot and it builds up a lot of the new guys’ confidence moving forward,” he said.
Last week’s win may have been played on the road, but it had a Tucson flair.
Cam Gaddis (Santa Rita High School) and Robert Metz (Canyon del Oro) were two of the team’s eight defensive starters. Gaddis, a cornerback, recorded six tackles and a pass breakup. Metz had three tackles from the defensive end spot. Offensive linemen Antonio Rosales (Tucson High) and Alex Rios (Sahuarita High School) started on the other side of the ball.
The Sugar Skulls have more uncertainty at quarterback. Matt Behrendt started last week’s opener and contributed a passing and rushing touchdown. At halftime, Coleman plugged in Jake Medlock, last season’s IFL passing leader. Medlock was a last-minute addition to the team after he was released by the Jacksonville Sharks of the National Arena League.
“I called coach (Coleman) and said ‘If I’m not playing for the Sharks, I’m playing for you. Do you still need me?’ And he said ‘Absolutely,’” Medlock said. “I packed up everything in my car and it took me 28 hours to get here.”
Medlock fumbled at the goal line on his first possession, and San Diego returned the ball for a touchdown.
“I was a little rusty,” he said.
Medlock shook off the cobwebs and finished the game 10 of 14 for 142 yards and four touchdowns.
Coleman said two quarterbacks gives the Sugar Skulls options.
“Those guys are like 1A and 1A-and-a-half, if that’s even a thing. If you want to label it, 1A and 1B,” Coleman said.
“Both of those guys are capable of starting in this league, and really any team to be quite honest with you. To have two guys like that where one is a starter and the other is a backup, we don’t really look at it like that.”
Regardless of who is Tucson’s gunslinger against the Bucks on Sunday, the Sugar Skulls will take another step forward as a franchise when it holds the first home game. And ownership has hopes Tucson will have the rowdiest fanbase in the IFL.
“We’re going to build our own traditions here just like we see at basketball games for the Wildcats,” Sugar Skulls minority owner Ali Farhang said. “Our fans are going to be the ninth man. You see the 12th man in Seattle; we’re going to have the ninth man here in Tucson and we’re going to build a tradition by the product we put on the field. … We’re going to build an environment where our fans are going to be known as the best fans in the IFL.”
- The Sugar Skulls will wear their all-black uniforms in Sunday’s home debut. The black jerseys have gold numbers with white trim and “Sugar Skulls” across the chest. The helmets have the Sugar Skulls logo, a skeleton sporting a sombrero and sunglasses.
- Running back Shadrach Thornton didn’t travel with the team last week for unspecified reasons, but received first-team reps during practice this week. Thornton formerly played for the Arizona Rattlers and NC State.
- After the game, fans and spectators can meet players and coaches on the field.
- Arizona Wildcats legend Chuck Cecil will serve as a color analyst on the Sugar Skulls broadcast, which will air locally on The CW and will be streamed on YouTube.