Tough Night in Playoffs for AJHS

Top-Seed Salpointe Catholic Puts Hurt on Prospectors

By Daniel Dullum

TUCSON – En route to its 4A playoff football game against Salpointe Catholic, one of the Apache Junction High buses was involved in a minor accident. No one was injured, and Coach Vance Miller insists it wasn’t an omen.

Damage inflicted by Salpointe Catholic on the gridiron was another matter, as the Lancers demonstrated why they earned the No. 1-seed, defeating the No. 16-seed Prospectors 56-7 on Nov. 2 in the opening round of the 4A playoffs.

“Look, we’re not a private school in Tucson with scholarship athletes,” Miller said. “All of our kids live within a mile of our school. We’re proud to play with the kids that we play with.

“Our guys are a little beat up, but they’re glad to be a little beat up. They’re here. They made the playoffs. They’ve overcome that stigma of ‘we’re just AJ. Just AJ didn’t make the playoffs in the last eight years. This AJ fights and they don’t give up. There’s no quit in this team.”

Miller added that the underclassmen benefit from the experience of seeing what they have to do to reach a higher level.

“And we got some of our younger kids out there tonight,” Miller said. “They’re coming back with bright eyes and excited. They’re excited for their future.”

AJHS senior Justin Ramirez said, “I’m just glad I got to play with some of the players I got to play with over the last couple of years that made it to the playoffs … It’s hard, but things happen, and I just hope this program continues how we left it.”

The game kicked off 17 minutes late, and the Prospectors (7-4) got off to a good start, stopping a Lancers drive on downs at the Salpointe 28. But AJHS was unable to take advantage.

“You can’t do that against a team like this,” Miller said. “When they’re bigger and faster than you, everything has to be perfect for you to stay in the game.”

From there, the Lancers (11-0) reeled off three touchdowns on three possessions, taking a 21-0 lead. Junior running back Bijan Robinson scored on touchdown runs of 53 and 40 yards. In between, senior Mario Padilla returned a punt 48 yards for the Lancers’ second score.

An interception by Padilla set up Robinson’s third touchdown, a 15-yard run at 10:44 of the second quarter. At 6:32, Salpointe’s Lathan Ransom picked off a Gibson Limongello pass in the back of the end zone. Two plays later, Padilla hauled in a 51-yard scoring pass from Devin Green, and, three minutes later, added a 28-yard touchdown run.

Ransom’s second interception of the quarter led to a 43-yard TD pass from Green to Julian Robles, extending Salpointe Catholic’s lead to 49-0 at the half.

Miller said, “Our halftime speech had nothing to do with adjustments, nothing to do with yelling and screaming. I just said, ‘I love you guys. Now, seniors, you’ve got one half left. You promised me four quarters of football, win, lose or draw. Now get after it in that second half.’

Lancers Coach Dennis Bene said,. “It all started up front. I thought our O-line did a nice job at the beginning.”

Apache Junction scored its first touchdown in the final minute of the third quarter when William Lohman found the end zone from 6 yards out. Salpointe closed out the scoring with four minutes left in the fourth quarter on sophomore running back David Cordero’s 25-yard touchdown run.

Lohman ran 11 times for 42 yards, and Ethan LaBrue caught 3 passes for 19 yards. Lohman finished his senior season with 1,236 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.

Limongello was the Prospectors’ leading ground gainer, with 68 rushing yards on 14 carries. The junior signal-caller also completed 10 of 22 passes for 65 yards, but was picked off three times.

On the season, Limongello completed 88 of 160 passes for 1,392 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Robinson led the Lancers with 143 rushing yards on seven carries, all in the first half. Cordero ran seven times for 109 yards, and Green completed 8 of 9 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

“I thought (AJHS) was a very well-coached team. They played extremely hard,” Bene said. “We’re just happy to win and move on.”

Photo above: AJHS Coach Vance Miller addresses the seniors following the Prospectors’ playoff loss to Salpointe Catholic. (Photo by Daniel Dullum)

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