Defensively, Apache Junction may have collectively played its best game of the season on Oct. 4, when the Prospectors blanked Phoenix Washington 38-0 in their 4A Black Canyon Region opener at the Rams field.
Fullback Ethan Labrue also scored three touchdowns while playing on both offense and defense.
“We weren’t really expecting a shutout, but the defense was lights out all night,” Prospectors Coach Vance Miller said, adding that the Rams were held to 86 total yards on 46 plays – 1.9 yards per play.
“(Washington’s) average rushing play was .6 yards,” Miller said. “The defense forced turnovers, a lot of three-and-outs, and consistently put our offense in good field position. And yet, our offense kind of sputtered a little. Then in the second half, we just kept pounding the ball.
“I felt bad for linebacker Zach Langenbach, who is becoming a terrific outside linebacker. He had a great chance for a couple of pick-six’s on passes he knocked down. He had both passes covered perfectly, he just couldn’t catch the ball.”
Miller emphasized how “proud I am of how the defense is coming together.”
“They’re working like a well-oiled machine,” he said. “We’ve kind of kept quiet about them up until now, and the kids are getting it figured out. Even with the missed opportunities we had, they didn’t move into a bad direction.
“We’re just one step away from being nearly perfect with our defense. The kids have bought in and understand the system. The defense is what’s going to keep us in the win column for the next four weeks. Our offense just needs to score some points. We can win 7-0 and that OK.”
Apache Junction (4-2 overall, 1-0 region) opened the scoring with a minute left in the first quarter, when Labrue caught an 11-yard scoring pass from Gibson Limongello. Cameron Garcia’s 2-point conversion pass to Jordan Morris put AJHS up 8-0.
A Prospectors fumble recovery gave AJ the ball at the Ram 17, setting up a 9-yard touchdown run by Labrue. Apache Junction led 14-0 at halftime.
Labrue scored his third touchdown – a 14-yard run – with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. He finished the night with 86 rushing yards on seven carries. Limongello’s 2-point run gave the Prospectors a 22-0 lead.
With five minutes left in the third quarter, Limongello connected with Tommy Ryan on a 19-yard scoring play. Early in the fourth quarter, Brody Bullard scored on a 7-yard run, and with two minutes left in the game, Morris booted a 36-yard field goal.
The loss dropped the Rams to 3-4 on the season, 1-1 in region play.
Limongello completed 15 of 25 passes for 190 yards, and ran seven times for 29 yards. Ryan caught five passes for 59 yards and a touchdown, and Morris caught three passes for 76 yards.
“Jordan had a great game receiving and kicking. His kickoffs were awesome,” Miller said.
This Friday (Oct. 11), the Prospectors return home to host El Mirage Dysart.
The Demons, who lost 55-12 to San Tan Valley last Friday, are winless in seven games.
“Dysart is really struggling, and it’s another opportunity to get reps for a lot of the guys, which improves out depth,” Miller said. “When you’re in close games, your backups never really get that game experience. So over the next couple of weeks, we’ll have the chance for everybody on our roster to get ample reps and get better.
“That will help us when we get to Glendale and Combs and into the playoffs.”
It’s a plan, Miller said, that should help with getting some players healthy for the final push.
“Even (against Washington), we were able to pull some guys. We pulled Gibby after the third quarter. He took a couple of shots in the legs and he said he’d rather just rest. Ethan Knox went in and did just fine.”
Miller said he’d like to see the offense play with “a little more confidence,” adding, “they need to see that we can score points, and we can move the ball. I think they’ll come out a little more fiery. I hope that momentum builds throughout our region play.”
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Davis Field.