The 4A playoffs began on Friday, Nov. 18, and the Apache Junction Prospectors (7-3) were looking to take down the Prescott Badgers (8-2) at home at Davis Field. The winner of this game was to play the winner of the Arcadia Titans vs. Snowflake Lobos game the following week.
Coach Bruce Binkley was asked if he prepared any differently for playoff matchups compared to regular season games.
“We did,” said Coach Binkley. “We worked our tails off this week, gave more effort, gave more attention to detail and we’re ready to go,” he said.
The Prescott Badgers won 35-28. Fifteen seniors for the Prospectors will move on with their careers, whether it be college football or something that entails hanging up the cleats one final time.
The Badgers kicked off to the Prospectors at 7:01 p.m. Nov. 18. Star running back Isaiah Savoie for the Prospectors helped lead the team all the way to the goal line with multiple big carries. On the one-yard line, Quarterback Gavin Limongello took a QB sneak right up the middle for an early Prospectors touchdown.
The Prospectors’ defense shut down the Badgers’ rushing attempts the following drive, as they were shut down on fourth down. Limongello used his team’s momentum on the following drive as he heaved a deep pass toward a wide-open Ben Valenzuela who caught the pass and took it 73 yards for another Prospectors touchdown, extending their lead to 14 following the extra point.
The Prospectors shut out the Badgers in the first quarter, as a promising drive from Prescott was cut short after a botched handoff was recovered by Limongello. Unfortunately for the Prospectors, they were unable to capitalize on the turnover and were forced to punt the ball away. Dennis Church was able to launch a 46-yard punt to put the Badgers in a tough field position.
Limongello also helped his team out on defense as he recorded multiple big tackles on the following drive; however, the Badgers utilized a wildcat formation and Ryan Smith took a direct snap up the middle at the goal line for a three-yard touchdown to cut the Prospectors’ lead.
Unfortunately for the Prospectors, a big play to wideout Carlos Juarez Reyes was called back via a penalty, and Limongello punted the ball away. The Badgers drive started out strong, as Cian Mckelvey had a massive run all the way up to the Prospectors’ 20-yard line, where cornerback Elijah Edwards and Savoie were able to combine forces and make a touchdown-saving tackle. Unfortunately, Edwards was injured on the tackle; however, he played out the remainder of the game. The Badgers were able to get into the endzone once more as they again utilized the wildcat formation to great effect and running back Cody Leopold helped tie up the game with 28 seconds left at 14 after the extra point.
The Prospectors could not make magic happen with less than half a minute to go in the half, as the referees ruled Limongello down on a sack despite it seeming like he pitched the ball to an open receiver.
After a short 15-minute intermission, the Prospectors kicked off to the Badgers to start the second half. The Badgers seemed like they had a perfect drive going, but some phenomenal defense up front stopped an inside run attempt in the red zone on fourth and one and the Prospectors got to take over on offense. Unfortunately, Limongello was intercepted by cornerback Cole Gross on the first play on offense.
The Badgers took over on the Prospectors’ 32-yard line. The Badgers attempted to capitalize on the first play on offense, as wide receiver Jake Hilton took a pass over the middle for a first down;. However, he was tackled from behind and appeared to suffer an injury on the play; he had to be helped off the field by staff and did not return to the game. The Badgers — motivated to win the game for their teammate — were able to score a touchdown several plays later as Uriah Tenette took a direct snap up the middle for a four-yard touchdown to give the Badgers their first lead of the day.
Savoie was able to carry the Prospectors down to the red zone after an early 49-yard run. Limongello capped the drive off with a touchdown as he took a direct snap up the middle for a touchdown. There was some confusion, however, as Limongello did lose the ball and it was recovered by the Badgers. However, after some discussion, the referees concluded that Limongello crossed the plane before losing the ball and the prospectors were able to tie the ballgame up.
A nice drive by the Badgers towards the end of the third quarter was completed as running back Ethan Groh was able to carry his team to the red zone, where he eventually took an outside run for a touchdown to extend the Badgers’ lead once again.
The Prospectors’ next drive ended the third quarter and with 10:48 left on the fourth quarter clock scored once more as a big 21-yard touchdown run by Limongello tied the game after the extra point.
The Badgers’ next drive was methodical, as they continuously picked up first down after first down on big third- and fourth-down plays. Eventually, Uriah Tenette took the ball and looked for a receiver, but eventually ended up attempting to run for the touchdown and fumbled the ball at the one-yard line. Luckily for the Badgers, wide receiver Levi Vandyke fell on the ball in the endzone for a touchdown.
Unknowingly for the Prospectors, this next drive was their final of the season. Both Savoie and Valenzuela helped get the Prospectors into the red zone. But on a crucial third and five, Limongello was called for a read-option play where he kept the ball. But Ryan Smith and Wyatt Rewerts of the Badgers collapsed on the play and forced the ball loose where Groh was able to recover.
The Badgers’ who needed at least one first down to end the game were faced with a fourth and two situation at midfield. And on arguably the biggest play of the game, Groh took the handoff and rushed for five yards and a first down. And after a couple more runs and a knee, the Badgers were able to ice the game away and win the game as they will play Snowflake on Nov. 25.
Unfortunately, the great Prospectors season will come to an end. A season full of great games and wins and a phenomenal 7-3 record, The Prospectors came up just short of a deep playoff run.
Coach Bruce Binkley was asked what he said to the players after such a tough loss to end the season. “I tell them they did a h--- of a job,” said Coach Binkley. “And the other team was just a little bit better in the playoffs.”
Editor’s note: Isaac Robertson is a high school intern who currently covers sports writing for Apache Junction Unified School District. He is a senior at Mesa Virtual Campus, is to graduate this December, and plans to attend ASU with a major in sports journalism.