Rattlers use turnovers, big plays to stay unbeaten in Tucson
When the expansion Tucson Sugar Skulls (3-3) drove north up the I-10 last month for their first of four 2019 meetings with the Arizona Rattlers (6-0), they were run out of Talking Stick Resort Arena in a 35-point blowout.
This was business as usual for Arizona head coach/general manager Kevin Guy, also the co-owner of Tucson, whose undefeated team had yet to be seriously challenged through seven weeks of the IFL season.
That changed on Sunday as the Sugar Skulls matched the Rattlers blow for blow in the first half before Arizona pulled away in the third quarter on their way to a 55-41 victory in front of 4,138 fans at Tucson Arena.
Tucson quarterback Jake Medlock led a textbook drive to open the contest, capping it off with a one-yard touchdown plunge to give his team the early lead.
Arizona would answer right back on fourth play of the ensuing drive when running back Jabre Lolley bulldozed his way into the end zone from two yards out to even the score.
Medlock would put his team right back in front, hitting wideout Rico Brown in stride down the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown.
After the teams traded stops, Rattlers’ quarterback Jeff Ziemba hit Jarrod Harrington for a 22-yard score to tie the game.
When the defense forced a missed field goal, Ziemba led a nine-play, 45-yard drive culminating in a six-yard touchdown toss to Jamal Miles on 3rd and goal to give Arizona its first lead with less than a minute to play in the first half.
However, the Sugar Skulls were not ready to go quietly into the locker room as Medlock connected with wideout Shaq Curenton on a short pass over the middle. Curenton broke a tackle and raced 38 yards to pay dirt, tying the score at 21 at the break.
The teams traded scores to open the second half before Rattlers’ defensive lineman Chris McAllister blocked a long field goal attempt, ricocheting the ball into the end zone where defensive back Dillion Winfrey fell on it for a touchdown. After Harrington ran a fake point-after in for two points, Arizona led by the count of 42-28.
The high-powered offenses continued to trade blows until the fourth quarter when Tucson was driving deep into Rattlers territory. On 2nd and goal, Medlock was pressured by linebacker Ricky Wyatt Jr., forcing an errant throw that was picked off by defensive back Phillip Henry, who scampered 45 yards to pay dirt and surge Arizona to their sixth straight win.
Guy praised the team he owns but saw room for improvement from the team he coaches.
“They had a chance here today,” Guy said. “We were up by 14 and had the interception late. They were driving. We definitely were in a fight today. They’re getting better. That’s an expansion team. We should have beaten them worse. I’m a little disappointed in the way we played.”
Arizona’s routine may have been affected by the 90-minute bus ride to “The Old Pueblo,” leading to a sluggish start and a lack of execution in the first half.
“We had the worst warmup in Rattler history before the game,” Guy said. “We were fumbling balls. Guys were dropping balls. Missed throws.”
– Tucson looked to make it a game again late. After Arizona had missed a field goal with three minutes to play, Medlock had the Sugar Skulls poised to pull within seven points. However, Rattlers’ defensive back Devontae Merriweather picked off a pass to end any hope of a rally.
– Ziemba was sharp once again; finishing 10-18 passing for 126 yards and four touchdowns. The former Offensive Rookie of the Year also rushed for 38 yards.
– Medlock, who was the back-up when the teams last played, rushed for 41 yards, three touchdowns and threw three scores.
– Kicker Jimmy Camacho missed three extra points, two field goals and had the game’s opening kick-off hit off a low-hanging speaker.
The Arizona Rattlers travel to San Diego to face the expansion Strike Force on Monday, April 22nd. All games can be seen live on YouTube.