July 4 is less than two months away, but the fireworks can come early in the desert.
In the form of hits.
When the Tucson Sugar Skulls (3-3) host state rival Arizona Rattlers (6-0) on Saturday night at Tucson Arena, not only will the IFL’s top two offenses face off, it will also be the whole first meeting between Rattlers quarterback Drew Powell and Sugar Skulls quarterback Daquan Neal, who leads the league in passing yards (1,059) and touchdowns (24).
Powell, who was the 2018 IFL MVP and led the Iowa Barnstormers to a United Bowl when Sugar Skulls head coach and general manager Dixie Wooten was the head coach, is just behind Neal with 23 passing touchdowns and 835 yards.
“That’s what makes this game special. We have two quarterbacks who have won MVPs, won many games in this league and are facing each other this Saturday,” Wooten said. “You have two of the best quarterbacks in this league, so that’s going to be crazy on its own.”
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The Rattlers are averaging 53.8 points this season; Tucson is posting 52.3 points per game. So, in a potentially high-scoring affair, how can the Sugar Skulls, on a two-game winning streak, defeat the undefeated Rattlers and beat their rival for the first time in franchise history?
“Man, going out and punching them in the mouth,” Wooten said. “We have the No. 2 attack in the league and we can score with anyone. We just saw it last week, our defense is stepping up now. … They’re 6-0 down, so now is the perfect time to knock them out.
Arizona is coming off a 49-35 victory over the Frisco Fighters, where they won despite five turnovers.
“We’re not playing our best ball, but I can’t wait for Arizona and Tucson to play off for the conference championship to go to the championship game this year,” said Kevin Guy, Rattlers head coach and co-owner. Sugar Skulls. “When I look around the league, Tucson has a team that can do it this year.”
Guy added, “Tucson could be 5-1. They lost two very close games they were in – in the last games of the game. They could easily be 5-1, but they have a quick attack. … Tucson can score points, there’s no doubt about it, which is exciting for the fans.
After starting the season 1-3, fumbled in the fourth quarter in back-to-back games against the San Diego Strike Force and the Duke City Gladiators, Tucson outlasted the Northern Arizona Wranglers 72-62 and recently avenged their loss to Duke City. , 42-41, last Saturday.
Trailing the Gladiators 41-40 with five seconds left after spitting out another late lead, Sugar Skulls defensive lineman Tony Winslow Jr. bulldozed his way to block the PAT, and the ball was recovered by defensive back Jovon White who escaped a couple of tackles to send him off for two runs to win the game.
“It was a great feeling, man,” Wooten said. “In any other situation, any team would go out for the extra point, you’re just going through the motions just because you feel bad. Three-year-old guy TJ Winslow came in and saw an opportunity and got a block. When we saw the ball on the ground, all my guys saw was an opportunity. We picked it up and sent it back, and it was a great feeling that we were able to win this type of game.
Winslow had also blocked a Duke City basket earlier in the game. Winslow and White were named IFL Co-Special Teams Players of the Week.
“After the game I said to (Winslow): ‘If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have won this game.’ … If Tony hadn’t made those spectacular plays, we’d be talking about something totally different right now,” Wooten said.
The Rattlers are 7-0 against the Sugar Skulls.
“It’s just footy. You either have it or you don’t. I mean, they dress the same way I dress,” the Tucson running back said, Mike Jones “We’re just going to go out there and play football.”
If anyone on Tucson’s roster knows anything about the loss to the Rattlers, it’s Jones, who has been with the team since the inaugural season in 2019 and was on the losing side of those seven games.
“I haven’t beaten them yet, so it would be pretty nice to get a win,” he said. “In our previous team, they always played the Rattlers. At the end of the day, they’re the big brothers and we’re the little brothers. People were scared in my eyes, but I don’t think that will be the case this time around. year.
Prior to becoming head coach and general manager of the Sugar Skulls, Wooten was 4-0 against the Rattlers and never lost to Guy. Losing all three games to Arizona “felt like a slap in the face” for Wooten.
“It didn’t do me any good at all, because when you have that much success against one person, then all of a sudden you lose three times against that same team?” It leaves a bitter taste,” Wooten said. “Some days I stay up 7 p.m. just to figure it out.
“That’s what this game means to me. … This game is super important for us. We see this game as a great playoff game.
- Tickets for the Sugar Skulls-Rattlers game are reduced to $15 for any seat at Tucson Arena as part of a special Mother’s Day offer.
- Tucson will wear white helmets, red jerseys and white helmets. The Sugar Skulls launched their alternate red uniforms in 2021.
- Arizona’s average margin of victory over Tucson in seven games is 16.8 points. The only one-possession game in the rivalry was a 50-49 shootout at Phoenix in 2019.
Contact sports producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or [email protected]. On Twitter: @JustinESports