In the first quarter of Friday’s high school football opener between Apache Junction and Phoenix North Canyon, the Prospectors torched the Rattler secondary three times with the same play.
AJ quarterback Gibson Limongello and wide receiver Cameron Garcia combined for touchdown scoring pass plays of 50, 48 and 54 yards, sparking the 4A Prospectors to a 41-21 non-region victory over 5A North Canyon at Davis Field.
“It starts at practice,” Garcia said. “That’s how we practice it, and you have to focus on the ball. Then, act like there’s a pack of wolves chasing you trying to chew your foot off!”
Limongello said, “We work on that a lot. It comes down to speed, and Cam is really fast. He can create space, get the right time, catch the ball, and he’s not afraid to catch it. And the line did an amazing job blocking for me to get that throw off.”
The senior quarterback said those three plays proved critical to building what became an insurmountable lead.
“It was real important, in our first game, to put points up right away,” Limongello said. “Overall, we did an excellent job on offense and defense.”
Rattlers Coach Adam Beene said, “We had the guys to cover it; it was just discipline. We knew that was going to be a key in the game, unfortunately, we weren’t able to keep our eyes focused the way we needed to.”
Prospectors Head Coach Vance Miller was absent from the sidelines due to what Assistant Athletic Director Norm Hoefer termed as “a family situation,” adding that a timetable for Miller’s return has yet to be determined.
Junior Varsity Coach Alex Murphy filled in as interim head coach.
“Hopefully, Vance will be back next week,” Murphy said. “I told the other coaches, we’re not going to do anything different – just try not to screw it up. It was a little sloppy, but at the end of the day, we got it done.
“Penalties really killed us, but our defense came out really strong. We pushed them back quite a bit, but we bailed (North Canyon) out with some penalties and gave them chances.”
Noting the Prospectors’ 14-point halftime lead, Murphy felt that with a break or two, the Rattlers could have mounted a comeback.
“In the second half, if they would have made a quick score, anything could have happened,” Murphy said. “It would have become a completely different game if they cut it to one score. So, we slowed the game down and tried to run the ball better in the second half.
“Our coaches came up with a great offensive game plan. We saw some things on film that we thought we could exploit, and we executed those big pass plays.”
Limongello completed 14 of 18 passes for 299 yards, five touchdowns, and threw two interceptions. Garcia snared four passes for 157 yards and three scores. The senior quarterback also ran 12 times for 72 yards.
Linebacker Brody Bullard led the Prospectors’ defense with four solo tackles while assisting on 11 more. Cody Arbogast had two solo tackles and five assists. Ethan Labrue was credited with one solo and seven assisted tackles. Arbogast and Bullard each recorded one sack for a combined minus-13 yards.
North Canyon (0-1) opened the scoring on its first possession when quarterback Amari Harris connected on a 64-yard pass to wide receiver Avonte Nelson with 8:37 left in the period. Eighteen seconds later, the Prospectors (1-0) responded on their first offensive play, as Limongello found Garcia on a 50-yard strike.
AJHS’s first score was set up by Chris Lohman’s 45-yard kickoff return.
The Prospectors went ahead to stay at 14-7 with 5:01 remaining in the opening period on Limongello’s 10-yard scoring pass to Lohman. Apache Junction extended its lead to 21-7 on a 48-yard pass from Limongello to Garcia.
The AJ duo of Limongello and Garcia connected for a third time with 2:08 to play in the second quarter, this time from 54 yards out, giving the Prospectors a 28-7 lead.
“We had to keep pushing, and keep the foot on the gas,” Garcia said. “We didn’t want them to come back on us.”
A 10-yard scoring pass from Harris to Marcon Keith pulled the Rattlers to within 28-14 in the final minute of the first half.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Prospectors took a 34-14 lead when Tommy Ryan hauled in a 3-yard TD pass from Limongello at 5:43 of the fourth quarter. North Canyon closed their deficit to 34-21 with 4:46 left on a 5-yard scoring run by Harris, but Limongello’s 21-yard touchdown run put AJHS back up by 20 with 2:34 to play.
“I’m proud of the way our kids fought,” Beene said. “Our guys fought right down to the last whistle, we’ve got some kids banged up, but we’ll try to be ready to play next week.”
Next week, the Prospectors travel to Tempe to face the Buffaloes in a 4A non-region contest. It’s Tempe’s season opener.
“Penalties really hurt us tonight, we have to fix that in practice,” Garcia said.
“We’re just going to game plan really well, figure out what (Tempe) is doing, try to execute right, and hopefully have a good game, take care of business, and win,” Limongello added.