TEMPE – Apache Junction wasn’t prepared for the way its season ended last year as the Prospectors had to cancel their final games due to COVID.

Despite a slow start to their season opener on Friday night against Marcos de Niza, the Prospectors showed just how scary of an opponent they can be when everything is clicking, as they defeated the Padres 33-14.

Apache Junction trailed 14-12 in the second quarter as Marcos de Niza was knocking at the door, just 21 yards away from scoring despite their quarterback taking a big hit for loss of yardage by Christopher Vaccaro.

The Padres went for it on 4th down, as the ball sailed deep into the end zone, Isaiah Savoie came flying in front of the receiver and nearly intercepted the ball.

The momentum that had been building up to that point, fully shifted towards the Prospectors.

Apache Junction only needed three plays on their next drive to find the end zone as Gavin Limongello connected with Garrett Garcia for 19 yards on the first play and then again for the 65-yard score to take the lead 19-12 after the extra-point kick was good.

“It’s hard when you come into a game because we didn’t know for sure what they were going to do on defense,” Apache Junction coach Bruce Binkley said. “They actually switched what they had done on film, so we had to adjust and everybody kind of panicked a little bit and then we got our feet underneath us. We thought that our size, we could kind of do things with our size and the truth is they were just as big as we were. It was just a great game.”

During their first possession in the second half, the Prospectors were getting ready to punt the ball away when the Padres were called for roughing the kicker.

Apache Junction was given a second life and did not waste that opportunity as Limongello found Garcia for a 25-yard reception and then ran the ball for 10 yards.

The junior quarterback ended the drive with a 9-yard rushing touchdown to extend the Prospector’s lead to 26-14.

Limongello would also come up big on the defensive side as the Padres were running the ball in the fourth quarter and the runner fumbled the ball which landed right in Limongello’s hands.

“Sometimes I want two platoons so you can get more people involved, but sometimes you have to put those kids in and (Limongello, Garcia and Savioe) they did a great job on defense,” Binkley said.

That change of possession eventually led to Apache Junction’s final touchdown, a 1-yard carry by Savoie.

Savoie finished the night with 15 carries for over 100 yards. Limongello added over 70 yards on 15 carries and had over tossed over 100 yards on 10 of 14 passing. Garcia was on the receiving end of six of those passes for more than 100 yards.

“We call the the triplets,” Binkley said. “They did a hell of a job, and they have a hell of an offensive line in front off them and a good defense, but all three of those kids, their freaks. I mean Garrett’s a great receiver, he’s 6’2” and a 4.0 student. Isaiah’s a great tailback and a 4.0 student. They’re wonderful kids and they’re great players.”

It was a back-and-forth affair as the two teams exchanged scoring drives to start the game.

Marcos de Niza scored on their first drive of the game as Elijah Woods caught a 39-yard touchdown pass for the score with 2:55 remaining in the first quarter.

The Prospectors started off on their own 39-yard line and following a big play from Limongello to Garcia, they found themselves at around midfield and capped off the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run by Savoie.

The kick was no good as Apache Junction trailed 7-6.

The Padres responded back quickly on their following drive as Anthony Steinpreis caught an 8-yard pass in the endzone to make it a 14-6 game.

Apache Junction’s “triplets” struck again as Limongello and Savoie pounded the ground, but it was Limongello connecting with Garrett for a big 31-yard touchdown that brought the Prospectors within two points of tying the game.

“Coming in we just wanted to compete hard and see what was going to happen,” Binkley said. “(I learned) that this team is exactly what I thought they were. They’re tough, hard-nosed kids and our quarterback is the best player in the state, and I dare anybody to say otherwise.”

They attempted the two-point conversion as Limongello tried to run the ball in but was stopped short.

The Prospectors will be on the road again next week as they track on Oro Valley Canyon Del Oro.

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Maria Vasquez is the Sports Editor for PinalCentral. She can be reached at mvasquez@pinalcentral.com.

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