RIO RANCHO — Scoring touchdowns the first two times it had the ball, the Tucson Sugar Skulls punched their postseason ticket after beating the Duke City Gladiators, 59-51 Saturday evening in the Rio Rancho Events Center.

The Skulls (8-6) ended the Gladiators’ (5-9) hopes of making the postseason.

The Gladiators headed into the fourth quarter trailing by just four, 42-38, but Tucson, led by former Gladiators quarterback Ramone Atkins scored a field goal and a touchdown to take a 52-38 lead with only 4:40 left in regulation.

Duke City came right back, with their “rushing quarterback,” Demry Croft, scoring on a 1-yard run; his run for a 2-point conversion failed, making it a 52-44 Skulls lead.

Although Tucson had failed on an onside kick late in the first half, resulting in a Duke City TD, the Gladiators tried it after the croft TD. It also failed, with Tucson quickly scoring for a 59-44 lead.

The Gladiators weren’t done scoring, they just ran out of time to catch the Skulls.

A five-play, 31-yard drive led to another Croft run for a TD, and Ernesto Lacayo’s point-after left the Tucson lead at 59-51, with 30 seconds to go, and the Sugar Skulls closed it out after another failed onside kick.

Croft was the offensive star in his role as rushing QB, scoring three times. Receiver Troy Evans caught two TD passes from starting quarterback Charles McCullum.

Duke City closes out its 2023 season Sunday afternoon at 3, when the Bay Area Panthers (8-5 before their game with the San Diego Strike Force on July 10 in San Jose) visit the Events Center for a 3:05 p.m. kickoff. (The game was originally scheduled to be played Saturday, July 15.)

IFL notes: The Arizona Rattlers came away with a hard-fought 52-43 victory on July 1 over visiting Massachusetts, improving to 10-4 on the season. It was their seventh straight victory after a 3-4 start.
Arizona has won 10 or more games in 13 straight seasons.

The game had more than its share of drama, and the IFL commissioner apologized for an “unfortunate incident that culminated with players and a coach entering the crowd. The Indoor Football League takes pride in our effort to create a family-friendly environment. The actions of these individuals do not represent or align with these unwavering IFL values. The IFL sincerely apologizes to the Arizona Rattlers, Arizona fans, as well as fans across the country. The IFL will not tolerate this type of action.”

Three Massachusetts Pirates were ejected from the game.