The course of Friday night's clash between Canyon del Oro and Apache Junction high schools shifted on a read option keeper by junior quarterback Montana Neustadter.
Neustadter, who finished the night with 148 rushing and 44 passing yards, took the carry 66 yards, untouched, for the game’s opening touchdown.
The Dorados never looked back from there, racing past an overmatched Prospectors squad, 35-9, to improve to 3-0 for the year.
Neustadter’s score was the first of several touchdowns in quick succession for Dustin Peace’s squad, including a 25-yard passing touchdown to tight end Dustin Sheeley in the second quarter.
The home side, which is off to its best start since 2010, took a commanding 28-6 lead into the half, giving their East Valley visitors little to look forward to.
Peace praised his team for its ability to overcome a bounty of injuries in their early season contests, embodying the "next man up" mentality he’s preached all summer long.
“We’re kind of banged up right now, and it’s been a rough stretch, playing these guys that are always physical,” Peace said. “But, being able to still pull out a 35-9 victory with some big plays called back, it’s pretty exciting. We’ve got a lot of growth to do, but we’re excited to be 3 and 0.”
Peace’s team has relied on its defensive prowess to dominate its first three opponents, in Flowing Wells, Prescott and Apache Junction—outscoring the three teams by a combined score of 117-22.
Senior back Gavin Davis, who finished Friday’s contest with 78 rushing yards on 10 carries, believes the team’s best outings are ahead of them, with several veteran players returning from injury in the weeks to come.
“It’s awesome for sure to get this win,” Davis said. “It’s excited to beat any team, but to win in a fashion that we’ve been doing, it’s pretty exciting. It’s good to win at home, and I think the best part about winning at home is everybody’s here, from the band to the student section, and we played as a team tonight.”
Peace said the Dorados' ability to continue their winning ways, despite dressing 23 players on Friday night, speaks to the selfless mentality of those donning the forest green and gold.
The longtime coach knows how tough it can be to pull out victory with such an injury-ravaged roster, but believes these early season bouts of adversity will serve the team well down the road.
"Every kid's playing in some form or fashion," Peace said. "Our quarterbacks are running down our kickoff. We're doing things that we never had to do before."
Such a depleted roster leaves little room for error, forcing seniors like backup quarterback Jared Vazquez, who completed 3-of-5 passes for 43 yards and a touchdown on Friday, to step up their game.
Vazquez completed perhaps the pass of the night in the fourth quarter, handling a high snap to hit wide receiver Austin Brooks in the end zone on a fourth down play for the game’s final touchdown.
The senior gunslinger described the play as sheer chaos, with Brooks saving a would-be disaster by jumping over the Apache Junction defender to snatch the arching spiral for the score.
“I swatted it down, grabbed it, I knew we had to hit it for a touchdown, so I just threw it as far as I could,” Vazquez said. “I knew that Austin was going to get it and we scored. From there, all I had to do was get up and start cheering.”
The Dorados return to the gridiron to play the Pusch Ridge Christian Academy Lions at home this Friday night, in the second-ever meeting between the schools.
The Dorados won last year’s contest, 33-7, defeating the Lions on their home turf in the first chapter of the budding rivalry game.
Davis, who spent his first two high school years at Pusch Ridge, said he’s excited to see how the Dorados fare against the Lions, who are 1-1 this season, coming off a 27-0 loss to Walden Grove on Friday night.
“I'm just excited to finally go out there and play them for sure," Davis said. "It's like playing with the kids you grew up with, for sure.”