Lohman’s 4th Touchdown Gives AJHS Sole Possession of First Place in Region
By Daniel Dullum
It wasn’t just the kids who enjoyed Apache Junction’s stunning 53-52 4A Black Canyon Region football victory on Oct. 19 in Glendale against the No. 3-ranked Cardinals.
Three of the Prospector assistant coaches are also AJHS alumni, who played at a time when Black and Gold football fortunes weren’t so golden.
“I’ve played and coached here since sixth grade, so that’s about 12 years,” AJHS assistant J.J. Digos said. “This is definitely the biggest game that I’ve been a part of as a player or a coach. I was in eighth grade when AJ went to the semifinals. But something like this, where we’re able to knock off an undefeated team … I still can’t believe it!”
Assistants Patrick Benavidez and Brett Darling both played for four different head coaches in four seasons as Prospectors.
“As long as I’ve been around here, this was definitely one of the most well played and well coached games I’ve ever been a part of,” said Benavidez, who played at AJHS from 2011 to 2014. “It’s great to be a part of this, as a former player and now as a coach, it’s hard to explain.”
“My time here was the lowest of lows,” Darling, who played collegiately at Friends University in Wichita, Kan., said. “It was definitely a tough time to be a Prospector, but to come back after playing college football and to see how the program has changed is an amazing turnaround.
“Thanks to Coach Miller, I’m glad to be back on the coaching staff and to see one of the best team efforts I’ve ever seen,” Darling continued. “I’ve never seen a comeback the way we came back tonight. I’ve never seen an AJ team chip away and chip away like we did. Usually, we close and fall off.
We’re finally getting to that peak now. We’re definitely on the right track.”
William Lohman’s fourth rushing touchdown of the night, from 5 yards out, capped Apache Junction’s wild second-half comeback, as the Prospectors handed Glendale its first loss of the season in a key 4A Black Canyon Region contest.
“I felt really confident,” Lohman said. “A penalty came up, though, on the hook-and-ladder and I thought, ‘No, we’re not going to end the game like this.’ … Gibby hit me with a pass for a first down, and that’s when everybody just started to get hyped up.”
AJ quarterback Gibson Limongello said. “A penalty set us back a little bit, but we picked up a few first downs, and I knew we had it. It was amazing; getting that win was a great experience for our team.”
The Prospectors (6-3 overall, 4-0 region) outscored the Cardinals 32-18 in the second half, and are along atop the Region standings. Going into the game, AJHS was ranked 28th on the AIA 4A power poll.
“If having your heart skip a couple of beats, I suppose that’s satisfying,” AJHS Coach Vance Miller said. “It was unreal. I screamed louder and louder and louder than I ever had before. It was one of my biggest wins since I’ve been here. It’s amazing.”
Apache Junction had what Milled called “our best offensive game of the year, by far,” racking up 29 first downs and 524 yards in total offense. Lohman carried the ball 23 times for 131 yards and four touchdowns, Limongello carried 11 times for 119 yards and a touchdown, and completed 16 of 29 passes for 229 yards and three TDs with no interceptions.
“This might have been the first game where Gibby didn’t get greedy on things like throwing the ball deep when he didn’t need to,” Miller said. “He was taking the underneath throws. He wasn’t looking downfield first, and that had been a problem.”
Freshman Jordan Morris had two catches for 64 yards and a touchdown; Ethan LaBrue had two catches for 19 yards and a touchdown.
Tommy Ryan had four catches for 28 yards and Logan De La Cruz added four catches for 48 yards. “Tommy’s catches came in clutch situations, like a fourth-and-five when he helped continue a drive where we eventually scored,” AJHS offensive coordinator Paul Schreel said.
“Our offense has taken a while to get moving,” Miller said. “It’s like last year – we’re peaking at the right time. Coach Schreel, I think, called his best game for the time he’s been here at AJ. He did his research on their defense and knew what he wanted to attack. If (Glendale) countered anything, he had a backup plan.”
Schreel said, “We just tried to be unique ‘formationally.’ We threw a lot of different formations at them. We knew they were an aggressive defense, so we started with a lot of play-action early.
“Gibby did a good job of keeping his poise and getting the ball to his receivers. … We completed passes to eight different receivers.”
In addition, Schreel said, the Prospectors dipped into their bag of tricks.
“We ran a hook-and-ladder, a throwback pass to Gibby, a double reverse, a flea flicker – we pulled everything out that we had,” Schreel said. “I hate to be cliché, but we ‘kitchen-sinked’ those guys. We threw everything we had at them because we thought that was what it would take, and that’s what it took.”
Glendale blew the game open with a 20-point second quarter on three rushing touchdowns by Kevin Daniels and a 2-point conversion pass from T.J. Owens to Brannon Lopez. Lohman’s second rushing touchdown kept AJHS in the game, as the Prospectors trailed 34-21 at halftime.
“We didn’t change up a whole lot on the offensive side,” AJ quarterback Gibson Limongello said. “We just kept driving the ball little by little, getting yard by yard. I was happy with our line’s performance – they did a great job – our receivers were catching every catchable ball they had. We just kept marching the ball down the field on every drive.”
BIG SECOND HALF
The Prospectors continued to battle into the second half. Limongello’s scoring pass to Ethan LaBrue pulled AJ to within 34-27. Daniels’ sixth touchdown – fifth on the ground – put the Cardinals up 40-27 and the Prospectors responded with a Limongello touchdown run to cut their deficit to 40-33.
A touchdown pass from Owens to Andre Neal with a minute to play in the third quarter extended the Cardinals’ lead to 46-33. Again, Apache Junction answered with Lohman’s third touchdown followed by a 2-point run by Morris, and the third quarter ended with Glendale leading 46-41.
Three minutes into the fourth quarter, Daniels scored his seven TD of the night, and Glendale led 52-41. Five minutes later, Morris caught a TD pass from Limongello, cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 52-47.
“Morris was fast and strong, he could be a next-level running back,” Miller said. “He doesn’t have lightning speed, but he does have fullback size.”
Schreel added, “When they were desperate at the end of the game, Glendale lined him up at quarterback to see if he could make a play.”
The Cardinals (8-1, 3-1) didn’t take long to find the end zone. Owens completed a scoring pass to Daniels one minute into the first quarter. Apache Junction responded three minutes later with a rushing touchdown by Lohman to tie the game at 7-7.
With seven minutes left in the first quarter, Owens connected again with Daniels to surge ahead 14-7. But with two minutes left in the opening period, the Prospectors tied the game at 14-14 when Limongello tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Joe Pomeroy.
Defensively, Chazz Chavez had five tackles for AJ and Brady Bullard assisted on four more.
Miller said the win came with a price – losing Zach Langenbach and Ethan Herrera, each suffering a broken arm.
The Prospectors conclude the regular season by hosting San Tan Valley Combs in the Battle of Ironwood this Friday at Davis Field. The Coyotes (4-5, 3-1) have won four of their last five games, including a 35-26 win on Oct. 19 over Phoenix Washington.
“Our rivalry game,” Miller said. “I’m actually excited, even after a big game like this, that there might be a big-game hangover. I don’t think that’s going to be the case, because our kids want Combs worse than anything.
“I’m confident our kids are going to come back out on Monday, ready to get after it. They know what’s at stake – we have to beat Combs or we won’t go to the playoffs.
“It’s not guaranteed yet.”