SAN DIEGO, California – Headed into theirfourth and final matchup with the San DiegoStrike Force, the Tucson Sugar Skulls were expecting to get all they could handle against ateam they had beaten handily three times.
And right on cue, the Strike Force put up their toughest fight in the four-game set, holding a second-half lead and staying close until late. But an opportunistic defense caused three turnovers that all turned into touchdowns and the Sugar Skulls finished the sweep with a 65-48 victory at Pechanga Arena.
Special teams and a clutch relief performance by quarterback Matt Behrendt were just as critical as the Sugar Skulls trailed several times
during the game and led by only three with 9:25 left to play before pulling away.
Keith Jones Jr.'s second fumble recovery of the season led to a first-quarter touchdown that put the Sugar Skulls on top, 20-7. The other two turnovers came in the fourth quarter as the teams were trading scores and the lead was changing hands. A diving interception by defensive lineman
Rayshawn Henderson on a deflected pass led to a touchdown and a 51-41 lead. The dagger came when the Strike Force got to the Sugar Skulls' 1-yard line but fumbled the ball into the end zone where Micah Eugene Jr. recovered. That turnover led to another touchdown that put the game out of reach.
Behrendt entered the game after starting quarterback Jake Medlock took a hard hit on a sack with less than a minute left in the first half and the Sugar Skulls clinging to a 27-21 lead. Medlock had been efficient, completing eight of nine passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns. He also had a
rushing touchdown. Behrendt matched Medlock with 68 yards passing, completing nine of 11 passes. He had three touchdown passes and also ran for one.
After seeing new kick returner Jeremiah Harris for the first time in the previous meeting, the Strike Force did what they could to keep the ball away from the speedy and elusive Harris. But the 5-7, 150-pounder put the Sugar Skulls in favorable field position time and again, wracking up 181 yards on eight returns, including a 44-yard return that put the Sugar Skulls at the Strike Force 3-yard-line after San Diego took the lead at the start of the third quarter. Harris, playing in only his second professional football game, also scored his first career touchdown on a 3-yard pass from Behrendt
with 6:35 left to play.
The Sugar Skulls now head into the home stretch with a playoff berth well within their grasp. After the visit to Bismarck, Tucson has two games with the currently unbeaten Arizona Rattlers, split by a bye week the weekend of June 1. The Sugar Skulls close the season June 15 with a home game
against the Quad City Steamwheelers. Tucson holds a 11⁄2-game lead over Quad City with the Steamwheelers facing the 8-1 Iowa Barnstormers on Saturday. But the Steamwheelers have a victory over the Sugar Skulls from their first meeting on April 20.