In the non-district opener against the 2A Maypearl Panthers, one thing was certain…Italy would be tested. As nervous Gladiator fans looked on, Maypearl kicked off to Italy who quickly went 3-and-out on offense and were forced to rely on the All-State leg of #11 Jasenio Anderson to punt it away.
The Panthers then began from their own 32-yard line and were looking at a 3rd down and 10-yards to go when Maypearl’s #20 D.J. Crownover hauled in a pass, down the middle of the field, from Panther quarterback #14 Conner Vaughn.
The 52-yard catch and run spotted the ball on Italy’s 10-yard line. Italy’s defensive front stiffened and along with a Maypearl false start, the Panthers were faced with a 3rd down once again, 9-yards from the Gladiator goal line. At the 7:00 mark of the first quarter, Maypearl’s Vaughn stepped back and threw a corner fade to Receiver #80 Lane Compston to give Mayperal the early 6-0 lead.
The P.A.T. was off to the left which took some of the sting off the Panther accomplishment for Italy’s faithful.
Italy’s #20 De’Andre Sephus advanced the next Maypearl kickoff to Italy’s 34-yard line. A couple of plays later, the Gladiators had a 3rd and 3 at their own 42. Jasenio Anderson, who’s also Italy’s quarterback, ran for 3-yards to get the first down at the 45.
After a second incomplete pass by the Italy offense, Jasenio Anderson pitched to #7 Kyle Wilkins who ran wide right for 9-yards. Italy picked up the 1-yard needed for a 1st down on the next play and now had a fresh set of downs on Maypearl’s 45-yard line.
Jasenio Anderson would later find #8 Desmond Anderson for Italy’s 1st completion, setting up a 2nd and 5 at Maypearl’s 32 with 4:10 left in the first quarter. #36 Justin Hayes ran for the 1st down to the enemies 25-yard line.
On 2nd and 6 from the 21, Jasenio Anderson hit #48 Ryan Ashcraft who was tackled at the Panther 5-yard line. And then on 3rd and goal, Jasenio Anderson dove in with 1:50 remaining in the first to tie the game 6-6. The point after kick failed but the Gladiators had regained some momentum.
Maypearl started their next series at their 29-yard line. The Panthers countered with a 16-yard catch by Crownover and a mis-direction run to the left down to Italy’s 36. A tipped pass by Italy’s #10 John Isaac and three run stops by the Gladiator defense, including tackling Maypearl’s Vaughn on a 4th and 11 quarterback draw play, gave Italy the ball back on it’s own 28-yard line.
Now in the second quarter, Jasenio Anderson runs up the middle to the 33 and then hands to Wilkins, on the next play, who rumbles for a 1st down to the Italy 43, 10:00 remain in the first half.
Eventually, the drive stalls at midfield and a Jasenio Anderson punt gives Maypearl the ball at the Panther’s 19-yard line.
Maypearl works it’s way to the 32-yard line with 6:29 to go. Then Maypearl’s Vaughn rolls left and completes a pass to #33 who’s finally forced out by #2 Heath Clemons and Isaac at Italy’s 21-yard line. And with 4:25 showing on the board, Vaughn races 17-yards for Maypearl’s second touchdown. Crownover obsorbs a hard hit to get the 2-point conversion and the panther’s go up 14-6.
On the ensuing kickoff, Italy fumbles the ball and it is recovered by the Panthers on Italy’s 30-yard line. After picking up a 1st down at the Gladiator 10, Maypearl’s pass from Vaughn to Compston gets intercepted by Desmond Anderson for a touchback, giving the ball back to the Gladiators at their own 20-yard line.
After Italy is unable to pick up the 1st down, Jasenio Anderson punts a 64-yarder from Italy’s 28-yard line down to the Maypearl 8-yard line. Maypearl runs one play before the half ends with the Panthers still leading 14-6.
After a big hit and tackle by Italy’s Hayes on the second half kickoff to Maypearl. The Panthers would overcome a false start penalty and a backfield tackle by Jasenio Anderson, on Maypearl’s Vaughn, to score again. With a 2nd and 11 from Maypearl’s own 23-yard line, Crownover picked his way through the Gladiator defense and sprinted 77-yards to put the Panthers up 20-6, 9:45 left in the 3rd. The 2-point conversion try was unsuccessful,
Italy would start again from their own 25-yard line. Almost with an, “Enough is enough,” attitude, Jasenio Anderson is able to connect upfield to his cousin Desmond Anderson for a 21-yard completion to the 46.
The pass put the Panther’s back on their claws, and Wilkins finds running room to the Maypearl 40-yard line with 7:35 left in the third.
After stops by Maypearl put the drive in danger, Italy managed to pick up a 1st down at the Panther 15-yard line, 4:09 left. Unfortunately, Jasenio Anderson had to exit the game with leg cramps, and two mishandled snaps later, Maypearl had the ball back at their own 44-yard line with 2:22 left in the 3rd quarter.
Italy’s defense held at the 50-yard line, and on 4th down and 5, Maypearl’s Vaughn executed a quick kick to the Italy 10.
On 2nd down with 10-yards to go, with Italy desperately needed a spark, Jasenio Anderson released a 54-yard bomb to Clemons down to Maypearls 36, with 12:00 left in the game. Desmond Anderson follows up with a 2-yard pass catch and then Hayes blasted to the 24 on a carry.
Behind Italy’s offensive line consisting of C-Ethan Simon, RG-Ivan Roldan, RT-Ross Enriquez, LG-Bobby Wilson and LT-Jonathan Nash, the offense was suddenly clicking as Jasenio Anderson hit Isaac with a 24-yard touchdown pass, bringing Gladiator fans to their feet. Jasenio Anderson nailed the P.A.T. kick and the game was still in question with Maypearl ahead 20-13.
Maypearl retaliated with another big run to midfield forcing a T.D. saving tackle by Italy’s Isaac. However, a tackle by linebacker Ethan Simon pushes Maypearl back 4-yards followed by a gang tackle from Jasenio Anderson, Ashcraft and Wilkins for no gain on the next play. Vaughn throws incomplete on 3rd and 14 and then quick kicks again.
Starting from their own 11-yard line, Italy eventually earns a 1st and 10 at their 27. Desmond Anderson then catches an 8-yard pass to setup a 31-yard pass from Jasenio Anderson to Isaac all the way to Maypearl’s 44-yard line. With 4:50 left in the game, Wilkins advances the ball to the 37. Two plays later, Jasenio Anderson lobs a pass perfectly over the outside left shoulder of Clemons for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
Italy went for 2-points but after Jasenio Anderson rolled left and then reversed his field back to the right, his pass was picked off. Maypearl was unable to score on the play. Italy then tried an onside kick that the Panthers recovered at their 40.
After a hard tackle by Italy’s #52 Jacob Lopez, Vaughn fakes a handoff to the right and keeps left behind a wall of blockers for a 23-yard T.D. scamper, giving the Panthers a 26-19 cushion.
With 1:46 left, Italy’s Green picks his way to the Gladiator 45-yard line on the return. A 5-yard pass to Ashcraft stops the clock. Isaac catches a 20-yard pass to Maypearl’s 30 but gets tackled in bounds. With the clock ticking down, :54, :53, :52, a pass to Isaac in the endzone is tipped at the last moment, stopping the clock again with :45 remaining.
Desmond Anderson makes a catch stepping out at the 5-yard line, with :39 to go, giving Italy a 1st down and goal.
After an incomplete pass and a Jasenio Anderson touchdown run called back due to a holding penalty, Heath Clemons makes a touchdown catch with :14 left in the game. The pass from Jasenio Anderson made the score 26-25.
With Italy unable to score any 2-point conversions thus far, Italy’s Head Coach Craig Bales opted for a P.A.T. to tie. The decision put the game in the hands of his All-State kicker’s foot, which prooved successful on Italy’s previous point after kick. Unfortunately, the snap was misplayed and the ensuing scrum ended with Maypearl falling on the ball, back near midfield.
Italy had one last chance with a second onside kick attempt. Maypearl recovered the kick and Vaughn took a knee to preserve the Panther win, bringing an end to an exciting night of Texas football.
Italy will play at home again next Friday, September 4, against Chilton at 7:30 p.m.