Sugar Skulls recalibrate after slow start to season


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The Tucson Sugar Skulls are coming off a 34-44 road loss against the Arizona Rattlers last Saturday in Phoenix (Matt Hinshaw/Arizona Rattlers)

Last Saturday, after being down 16-0 to the Arizona Rattlers at the end of the first quarter, the Sugar Skulls came to life on offense and eventually took a 34-30 lead going into the fourth quarter. At the end of the day, the surge on offense led by Demry Croft wasn’t enough for Tucson as the Rattlers then scored 14 unanswered points to close out the game and seal a 44-34 victory.

Following the loss, Tucson head coach Dixie Wooten had nothing but good things to say about Rattlers’ coach Kevin Guy, who he battled against in his days at the helm for Iowa, and also happens to be the co-owner of the Sugar Skulls.

“Personally, he’s a great guy, and he’s always a competitor and he know’s what he is doing,” said Wooten. “He’s been in the game for over 30 years, so one thing you’re gonna get with his teams: you’re gonna get a great coached team, you’re gonna get a hard-nosed team, and you’re gonna get some guys that come out there and understand the game.

“I love playing against him because I know it’s always gonna be a great, great game.”

The Tucson Sugar Skulls (1-3) play today at 6:05 p.m. at the Tucson Convention Center against the Massachusetts Pirates, who are coming off a 33-40 home loss to the Frisco Fighters last week.

While the Sugar Skulls weren’t able to squeak out a victory at Phoenix Suns Arena last Saturday, the adjustments Wooten and the coaching staff made in the second quarter may just be the key to turn around a season that hasn’t gone as planned, with Tucson losing three out of its first four games.

“What we did was, we ran the ball a lot better,” Wooten said. “We let our offensive line dictate the pace, and they did a good job, so when we got the run going, the pass got going. So, that’s what you’re going to see a lot of this week.”

With 10 games remaining on the schedule and a better feel for the team, Wooten remains confident that the the Sugar Skulls can turn the season around by utilizing the run game more.

“What I do, is I break it down into four games,” said Wooten. “The first four games, if you’re struggling, you gotta go with what you do best, and you gotta figure that out. As a coach with a new team, I had to figure it out myself as well, so what I got out of these four games is – we can run the ball pretty good.

“I gotta make sure I get Mike Jones some carries, and I gotta make sure I run my quarterback (Croft) a little more.”

Getting the wide receivers involved more in short passing situations is another adjustment Wooten plans to make going forward.

Secondly, my receivers are pretty good, but they’re the type of receivers that can catch the short pass and take it to the house, so I have to put them in the situations to catch short passes to make plays,” Wooten said. “Now that I got a feel for everybody on our team, I gotta put everyone in the right situations.”

Wooten went on to explain that Croft and the wide receivers specifically worked on their mechanics this week in practice.

“Timing from my receivers and quarterback (Croft),” said Wooten. “We have to be on the same page. Last week we ran a couple of routes short and we messed up getting the reads a little bit, but this week, we worked on all of that part.

“So now that we’ve got the timing down, we are gonna put the running game in, so I expect great things Saturday night from our offense.”

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood.  He is currently attending Pima Community College where he writes for the Aztec Press. Next semester he will be attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he will work towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.