Things would get better for Apache Junction as the night went on, and in the end, you could say that Apache Junction, a Division III school, and Florence, a very good Division IV school, played to tie.
Using varsity players, junior varsity players, and a mixture of both, the two team’s offenses scored three touchdowns on the night. The last for AJHS came on the final play of the night. Varsity backup quarterback and the likely starter for the Prospector junior varsity, Adam Abbatacola, tossed a beautiful deep sideline pass to Glenn Branham, who took it the full sixty yards for a touchdown.
Abbatacola, who also tossed a 55-yard scoring pass to star wideout Branden Edwards, may have the had the best night of any Prospector player.
The southpaw looked comfortable in the pocket, completed 7-of-15 throws for 153 yards and the two scores. He also saw his receivers drop three balls put right on target, but in a reality check, Abbatacola was also picked off twice by the Florence secondary, including one that might have been returned for a defensive score had the whistle not blown the play dead.
The varsity starting quarterback, junior Brett Darling, who last year threw for 1,554 yards, second best for AJHS QBs in the modern era, had mixed reviews. In the first offensive scrimmage, Darling completed just 1-of-6 passes for only one yard and was sacked twice. But in the team’s second series on offense, Darling went 2-for-3 with a 21-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jon McCune. He also completed a 38-yard pass to Edwards and his only incompletion was a ball dropped in the end zone by another receiver.
Darling, who completed nearly 43% of his passes in his sophomore varsity season, also threw 14 touchdown passes a year ago.
As for that slow start by A.J. and those two sacks in the opening series, offensive coordinator Dave Aoyagi promised better days ahead for Darling and the offense.
“There are things we can do to help buy you more time,” Aoyagi said after the scrimmage. “Florence was ran the perfect defensive scheme tonight to stop our spread offense.”
Edwards, who set a new single-season record with his 642 receiving yards last season on 50 receptions, picked up right where he left off. The wide receiver caught two balls for 93 yards.
McCune hauled in three receptions totaling 25 yards, Patrick Benavidez had two catches for 18 yards, Branham had the one reception that went for the 60-yard TD, Kollin Day caught one pass for 16 yards, Jacob Diaz had a grab for 11 yards, and Jose Contreras caught one ball for nine yards.
As was the case a year ago when they threw the ball 92% of the time, the Prospectors didn’t run the ball much against Florence.
Apache Junction had just seven official carries (two were called back on penalties) and leading the way was junior varsity running back and sophomore Cody Morgan with his 19 yards on two attempts.
Florence, who went 10-3 a year ago and lost to Show Low in the Division IV state semifinals, ran for 264 yards on 25 carries and scored all three of their touchdowns on the ground. Two of those scores, one for sixty yards, and one for thirty-five yards, came off of broken plays with the back reversing his direction against the flow of the AJHS defense.
Florence only completed two of their ten pass attempts for 27 yards. The offense also lost three fumbles in the scrimmage, gave up one sack and threw an interception.
On defense for Apache Junction, linebacker Cisco Valenzuela was in on five tackles, linebacker Sergio Gamez was in on four tackles including a sack for a three-yard loss, linebackers Cody Morgan and Colton Koesser, and Edwards at defensive back, were all in on three tackles, Day, Benavidez, Coby Chitwood, Kegan Green and McCune each had two tackles, Raymond Kimble, Damien Davis and Chitwood had the AJHS fumble recoveries, Davis’ coming on a strip by Joe Thompson, and Jordan Calhoun had the interception coming in the end zone to kill a Florence drive.
Also credited with a tackle were Daniel Hernandez, Zack Crismon, Elijah Apodaca, Joe Walkup, Trenton Gonwa, Diaz, William Rosales, Hunter Hallford and Thompson.
Asked what were the best things to come out of the scrimmage for AJHS, Coach Rathjen replied, “We stayed healthy, we played hard and kept fighting, and hopefully, we got some of the first-game jitters out of the way.”
Asked what was the biggest concerns from Thursday’s scrimmage and Rathjen mentioned the lack of ability to run the ball and the challenge Prospector wide receivers had hanging onto the ball, adding “hopefully, firstgame jitters had something to do with that.”
The Prospectors, who went 2-8 last season, open their 2012 season this coming Friday, August 24 at (Gilbert) Campo Verde. Apache Junction dropped a 31-6 decision to Campo Verde a year ago, a team coached by former Prospector head coach and AJHS graduate, Max Ragsdale.
The following week, Friday, August 31, the Prospectors hold their first home game at Davis Field when (Chandler) Perry comes in for a visit.