Vern Friedli Field at Amphi High School had the feel of a scrimmage with hardly any fans in attendance on a rare Monday night for a football game.
The amount of players from both teams — the Panthers and Phoenix Thunderbird — outnumbered the fans in the stands.
The listless atmosphere was indicative of how previously unbeaten Amphi played in a 24-7 loss that included six turnovers by the Panthers, a 37-yard touchdown run by star player Kiko Trejo nullified because of a holding call and three turnover on downs for Amphi.
The game was postponed from Friday to Monday because of a threat reportedly made toward Amphi’s students on social media causing the Tucson Police Department to be called in to investigate.
Despite the wait for two days to play on an uncommon Monday night — a school night — Amphi coach Jorge Mendivil was not ready to use that as an excuse.
“You can’t blame it on that because Thunderbird had to do the same thing,” said Mendivil, whose 2-1 team heads into a bye week before playing at Tempe Marcos de Niza on Oct. 1. “Our guys have to be ready to play at the drop of a hat.
“It could have been Saturday at noon. I told them before the game the lights are on at 7 o’clock, let’s play some football. Defensively, we played well. Offensively, we had six turnovers and that’s a killer.”
Turnovers led to Thunderbird’s first 17 points. The Titans scored their last touchdown in the fourth quarter following Amphi’s final turnover on downs at its own 33-yard line with 8:59 remaining.
The Panthers’ defense held Thunderbird to only 50 yards rushing on 32 carries. The Titans’ quarterback, Carter Squires, passed for 121 yards and two touchdowns but he completed 9 of 22 passes.
Penalties also affected Amphi’s movement on offense in addition to Trejo’s scoring run called back.
Down 17-7 and driving with 3:54 left in the second quarter, an Amphi possession stalled at the Thunderbird 40 because of a personal-foul facemask penalty.
An abundance of false-start penalties made it difficult for the Panthers to gain momentum on offense.
Trejo finished with 86 yards rushing on 14 carries after tallying 374 yards rushing combined in wins at home against Flowing Wells and Sahuarita.
Amphi beat Flowing Wells 27-24 and Sahuarita 42-27 but managed only a touchdown against Thunderbird, which allowed 51 points in a split against Cottonwood Mingus and Phoenix Greenway.
“Tonight didn’t go as planned… if there’s one thing I know it’s that things happen for a reason,” Trejo tweeted after the game. “We did what we could we fought hard but beat ourselves up in the end. There’s not a single reason we cant come back from anything. Catch me next game. I promise you a ballgame.”
Amphi at the start appeared prepared to play after its defense forced Thunderbird to turn the ball over on downs.
The Panthers then scored on their first possession, going 65 yards on eight plays, capped by Carlos Ybarra’s 26-yard touchdown pass to Nathaniel Carissimmi with 3:44 left in the first quarter.
Amphi sophomore lineman Marco Martinez then caused and recovered a fumble at the Panther 46.
The momentum quickly shifted to Thunderbird, however, with cornerback Brian Costa making his first of two interceptions.
Three plays after the interception, Squires connected with Brody Fogelson on the first of two touchdowns for that duo. The 19-yard scoring play tied the game at 7 with 1:07 left in the first quarter.
Amphi fumbled the ball away at its 30 on the first play of the next possession, and Thunderbird capitalized six plays later with Squires’ keeper up the middle for the 1-yard score.
Four plays into Amphi’s next possession, Thunderbird cornerback Nate Godoy snagged another interception.
Omar Granados ultimately made a 40-yard field goal attempt with 7:40 left in the first half to give Thunderbird a 17-7 lead.
“Our quarterback was getting the ball off late,” Mendivil said of the three interceptions. “With a lot of the quick-game stuff that we do, if you wait too long, it allows the corner to get back and stuff like that. … Kiko had an off-night tonight. Hopefully, that’s the only off-night of the season.”
Tonight didnt go as planned… if theres one thing I know it’s that things happen for a reason. We did what we could we fought hard but beat ourselves up in the end.. there’s not a single reason we cant comeback from anything. Catch me next game I promise you a ballgame..💰💯💫
— Kiko Trejo (@KikoTrejo3) September 21, 2021
Thunderbird’s last score came on Squires’ 10-yard touchdown pass to Fogelson with 7:00 left following Amphi turning the ball over on downs at its 33.
“I’m just thankful we have a lot of talent around us,” Squires said. “We have a lot of key guys that have stepped up. Our running back, Jordan Lahusky (202 yards on 32 carries in the first two games), tore his ACL last week. So it’s been really tough. We’ve been thankful that we’ve had other guys step up.
“We had all the momentum going in at halftime (against Amphi) because we scored a couple of times and we just wanted to ride it. We had a couple of things that just didn’t go well for us and we were just trying to bounce back from it. Luckily, we came out in the end with the win.”
Amphi, which had a six-game winning streak snapped dating to last year’s 4-0 record (in a season cut short because of COVID-19 protocol), now has a week off to fix its turnover and penalty issues.
Mendivil added that some players, who did not play against Thunderbird because they are banged up, should also be ready to return against Marcos de Niza.
“The week off is going to help us get healthy and get ready for Marcos,” Mendivil said. “We’ll work hard to getting things back on track.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District