Last weekend, the Tucson Sugar Skulls showed what they’re capable of doing when the pressure is on.
Tucson trailed the host Bismarck Bucks 35-34 early in the fourth quarter, and the team’s brief history hinted that a loss was brewing. At that point, Tucson had just two road victories all season — both against San Diego.
On Saturday, the Sugar Skulls made it three.
A rushing touchdown by quarterback Matt Behrendt, a recovered squib kick and a 30-yard touchdown catch by Jeremiah Harris helped Tucson hold on for a 52-40 win. The Sugar Skulls are 6-5 heading into Saturday night’s showdown against the Arizona Rattlers at Tucson Arena.
“It was just a matter of us finishing a game, which I thought we did,” Sugar Skulls coach Marcus Coleman said. “We showed a lot of mental toughness and made the plays we needed to make to seal the game. From a character standpoint, it was one of those team-building moments where we came together and finished the ballgame.”
With three games remaining in the regular season, Tucson sits firmly on the playoff bubble. Here are more storylines to watch this week:
Allen ‘doing his job’ on vaunted Skulls D
Tucson’s Zach Allen is one of the top linebackers in the IFL. Through the first half of the season, Allen — a former member of the Iowa Barnstormers — shifted between first and third in the IFL for tackles per game.
Allen has since fallen to 14th.
“He’s just done his job,” Coleman said. “There are a lot of plays that go away from him now and when you’re playing well, people do whatever they can to run away from you or take you out of the play and it’s forced other guys to step up. He’s a focal point. He’s a part of the game plan for other teams. … He’s been doing his job so it’s not a fault of his, he’s just doing what he’s supposed to doing. Teams are recognizing that he’s a good player.”
Instead, opposing offenses are running into former LSU Tiger Micah Eugene Jr., who recorded his first interception of the season against Bismarck and has 23 tackles over the last three games. Eugene received IFL Defensive Player of the Week honors after the win last weekend.
Jake Medlock has been Tucson’s primary starter at quarterback, but Behrendt’s production off the bench has been a boost, too.
Both quarterbacks have received snaps during Tucson’s three-game winning streak. Behrendt replaced Medlock on Saturday, when the starter took a brutal hit in the third quarter.
Behrendt completed 3 of 4 passes for 48 yards and scored two touchdowns.
“The offensive scheme works out for both of them,” said Sugar Skulls wide receiver Rico Brown, who caught two touchdown passes last week. “Whether it’s running the ball or throwing the ball, both of them can fit perfectly. It’s nice knowing if one of them doesn’t perform well or gets injured, the other one can step in and provide a spark that we need.”
The Sugar Skulls have the No. 4 offense in the IFL.
With a win over Bismarck and losses by the Nebraska Danger and Green Bay Blizzard, the Sugar Skulls are now tied with Green Bay for fourth place in the IFL standings. The top six teams in the league make the playoffs, with the top two seeds receiving first-round byes.
In order, the IFL playoff picture includes the Arizona Rattlers (10-0), Iowa Barnstormers (10-1), Sioux Falls Storm (9-2), Green Bay Blizzard (6-5), Sugar Skulls (6-5) and Nebraska Danger (5-7), with the Quad City Steamwheelers (4-7) sitting at seventh place. If Tucson can lock up the No. 4 seed, it would host a first-round playoff game.
“Our ultimate goal is to win a championship,” Brown said. “We just have to continue the same thing we’re doing and focusing on being 1-0 week-to-week and we’ll get to our goal.”