Tucson, in hot pursuit of a playoff spot, had all it could handle on Saturday night at the Event Center.
The Sugar Skulls found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter, but in the end they ground out a 52-40 victory over the Bismarck Bucks.
With its third straight victory, Tucson improved its Indoor Football League record to 6-5 with three games remaining. The host Bucks dipped to 2-8 with four games beckoning, three on the road.
Tucson coach Marcus Coleman said Saturday's game was a crucial win for his team as more than one level.
"A win is a win. ... Right now it improves our chances of getting in (the six-team playoffs)," he said. "It's definitely a step forward. If we stay on track we can put ourselves into position."
Bismarck, seeking its third win in four games, stayed within reach of Tucson through three periods.
Finally, the Bucks claimed the lead at the start of the fourth period. A 27-yard field goal by Cody Barber gave Bismarck a 37-35 lead with 14:46 to play.
That advantage didn't last three minutes, however.
Tucson scored on its next possession, marching down the field in five plays, the last two of them runs by quarterback Matt Behrendt. Behrendt scrambled 18 yards to the Bismarck three-yard line. On the next play went wide left to score. Josh Gable's extra point put the Skulls ahead 42-37 with 12:00 on the clock.
They led the rest of the way.
Bismarck drove a first down at the Tucson seven-yard line in its next series. An illegal procedure penalty, an incomplete pass and a four-yard run left the Bucks with fourth-and-goal from the six-yard line.
Bucks coach Rod Miller opted for a field goal, and Barber connected from 20 yards out to trim the deficit to 42-40 with 4:55 to play.
At that point, Tucson regained control.
The Skulls drove to the Bismarck 14 and called on Gable for a 26-yard field goal. That made it 45-40 with 57 seconds on the Event Center clock.
Then Tucson picked up a huge special teams break on the ensuing kickoff.
Gable's line-drive kickoff bounced from the grasp of the onrushing Eric Lauderdale and was recovered by Tucson's Mike Jones.
Three snaps of the ball later, Behrendt connected on a 30-yard lob to Harris for a touchdown. Gable converted and the game was, for all practical purposes, over with 35 seconds remaining. Tucson had its final 52-40 lead.
Coleman said he liked the way his charges sucked it up when the going got rugged.
"I told them 'tonight you showed us that you have intestinal fortitude. ... You showed us you're mentally tough,'" Coleman observed.
"To see the team come together and grind out a win ... was a bonding moment," he added.
Tucson piled up 294 yards of total offense, 172 of them through the air on 12-for-18 passing by Behrendt and Jake Medlock. Harris and Jarid Brown each grabbed two touchdown passes. The Skulls carved out a 16-13 advantage in first downs.
Bismarck threw for 161 yards and ran for 42, a total output of 203 yards. The crucial statistic, however, was three turnovers. Quarterback John Gibbs was picked twice.