Last Friday (Sept. 27), Apache Junction made its final non-region football tune up before starting 4A Black Canyon Region action this weekend. The Prospectors traveled to Phoenix Shadow Mountain and routed the Matadors 50-21.
“On all three phases, we played very well – offense, defense and special teams,” Prospectors Coach Vance Miller said. “Our play was good all over the place.”
The Prospectors (3-2) jumped to a 21-0 lead after one quarter and led 35-7 at halftime. Four minutes into the first quarter, Anthony Reyes ran in from nine yards out. Cameron Garcia hauled in an 18-yard scoring pass from Gibson Limongello, and Ethan Labrue scored on a 3-yard run.
It was more of the same in the second quarter. Jordan Morris caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Limongello at 11:00 of the period, and Reyes scored his second touchdown of the night on a 4-yard run.
Shadow Mountain scored on a rushing touchdown with 8 minutes left in the half.
“We expected a much closer game,” Miller said. “Shadow Mountain played a lot of young guys. Experience was on our side and it showed. Because they were using so many younger players, Shadow Mountain was struggling in a number of areas.”
The Prospectors extended their lead to 41-7 early in the third quarter, when Labrue hit the Matadors’ quarterback, forcing a fumble that was scooped up by Ethan Wright in the end zone.
Limongello’s rushing touchdown with 7 minutes left in the third quarter gave AJHS a 48-7 advantage. The Prospector defense came up with a safety on the Matadors’ ensuing possession, when, after the Shadow Mountain quarterback was pressured, he lost the ball and kicked it out of the back of the end zone.
Miller said the Matadors scored a couple of touchdowns after AJHS inserted its younger players into the game.
Limongello completed 14 of 20 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the AJ ground game with 77 rushing yards on eight carries. Reyes gained 20 yards and two touchdowns on seven attempts, and Chris Lohman returned to the Prospectors’ lineup and gained 19 yards on two carries.
Morris caught three passes for 104 yards and made 6 of 6 PAT kicks. Cameron Garcia caught seven passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, and Tommy Ryan caught four passes for 54 yards.
Defensively for AJHS, Zach Langenbach and Brody Bullard each made seven solo tackles, and Cody Arbogast made five tackles.
“Overall, I think we played our best game of the season,” Miller said. “We were very efficient on all three phases of the game. It wasn’t perfect, but it was our best overall package.”
Coming off a bye week, the Prospectors benefitted from the opportunity to address their numerous injuries.
“We had a good week of practice, and the bye week certainly helped,” Miller said. “We got three key guys – Chris Lohman, Cass Casperson and Ethan Labrue – back this week, and we expect Talon Izbicki and Gino Andrade back for next week’s game against Washington. So, we’re almost healthy going into region games.
“We’re peaking at the right time. We feel that we’re playing our best football right now going into the region, and it’ll get better from here.”
On Friday, the Prospectors travel to Phoenix Washington for their first 4A Black Canyon Region contest. The Rams are 3-3 overall, and 1-0 in the region; they beat El Mirage Dysart 55-0 in their season opener on Aug. 23. Since then, Washington has lost three of its last four games.
“They’re athletic, and have great coaches, but it looks like they’re a bit inexperienced,” Miller said. “The things they’re doing on film is very inconsistent, and that’s in all phases. It looks like they’re trying to find their groove.
“In my opinion, they have athletes. They just haven’t figured out where to put them to be the most efficient. We’ve figured that out already, so we’re at that point right now, where we know where our personnel need to be. We know what’s working and what we need to do to execute.”
One of the things Miller has noticed is the emergence of his seniors as team leaders.
Miller said, “You can’t force them into becoming a leader when they become seniors because its new ground. After having a few games under their belt, they’re getting it. They understand that it’s their team, their playoffs, their region championship that they’re going for.
“They’re understanding that there’s no tomorrow, or ‘we can do it again next week.’ Seniors usually don’t get it until about this point of the season. They look back and say, ‘I can’t get that back.’ Now you see it in their attitudes and you see it in their eyes when they’re playing.”
Miller said this development is “outstanding, because you can have adult conversations about football with them. There’s less excuses and more inquiry. They want to learn more and want to know why something happened and how to fix it.”
With a big non-region victory coming off a bye week, Miller feels his squad is ready for the stretch run in region play.
“As coaches, we were watching on film how we think we’re going to match up,” Miller said. “We’re pretty confident of our abilities in that game. And we’ll have Dysart and Cortez, who are really struggling. That will really give our offense an opportunity to fine tune their craft.
“Not to look past anybody, but will help us prepare for Glendale and Combs, which will probably be our toughest games of the next five.”