J.C. Larkin Athletic Complex, Valley Mills — Perceived contenders for the district championship this season, the Italy Gladiators (2009: 5-5 record, tied for 2nd place in district) are well on their way to making that goal a reality after a strong showing against the Valley Mills Eagles during a scrimmage on Saturday.
Starting with the ball on their own 30-yard line, Italy’s senior quarterback Jasenio Anderson completed a 7-yard pass to Kyle Wilkins and 10-yard pass to Heath Clemons to give Italy a first down at the 47.
A catch by Devonta Simmons moved the ball to the Eagles 47-yard line and a run by Kyle Jackson gave Italy another first down at the 41. Anderson picked up 3-yards up the gut and then took a shot into the endzone that was disrupted by an Eagle defender.
Not deterred, a relentless Anderson completed a pass to De’Andre Sephus for a first down at the Eagle 27. Anderson then scampered for 11-yards to setup a first down inside the 20. Clemons picked up 22-yards down to the 5 and then Anderson sprinted for the pylon winning a head-on-collision with an Eagle defender to crash over the goal line, 1-0 Italy.
Valley Mills began their first offensive set from their own 30-yard line. The Eagles’ snap marked the first action of the new look Gladiators’ defense under first year defensive coordinator Jeff Richters. After making some adjustments, the Gladiators began hitting their assignments and the Eagles’ initial drive stalled near Midfield. The normally emotionally charged Coach Richters, well, continued to be so.
Starting again from the 30-yard line, the Eagles threw a pass that was almost picked but at least deflected by Clemons. However, the Eagles managed to put a drive together but ran out of plays at the 35-yard line of Italy.
The Gladiators once again started from the 30. Backup quarterback Justin Buchanan completed a 5-yard strike to Jase Holden to setup a 3rd and 5 play. Clemons received the next pass from Buchanan and advanced the ball to the 40-yard line of the Eagles. The long gainer gave Italy a 1st down but also ended Italy’s first offensive set which totaled 15 plays.
Italy’s defense huddled for their next round of plays. Ethan Simon filled the hole for a quick stop in the Valley Mills backfield. Moments later, Jacob Lopez recovered a fumble by the Eagles. Simon again stuffed a middle run by the Eagles. Lopez then pursued the Eagles’ quarterback on a rollout to the right and made a hard tackle before the pass could be released.
Simon delivered yet another big hit on an Eagle runner followed by an 8-yard sack by defensive lineman Omar Estrada when the Eagles tried rolling out to the left side. Estrada’s effort came at the end of the Eagles’ possession and Italy’s offense started with a fresh set of plays.
Offensively, Anderson returned to quarterback and threw a cut block that helped Jackson find a lane resulting in a 65-yard scoring run down the Eagles’ sideline. A clipping call cancelled the point but the play shed light on Jackson’s ability who Gladiator head coach Craig Bales expects to have a solid season.
The wrecking balls up front for the Gladiators: Simon, Souder, Lopez, Estrada, Bobby Wilson, Larry Mayberry and Adrian Reed proved Saturday they’ll be able to fill the shoulder pads left behind by 2010 All-District graduates Ross Enriquez, Ivan Roldan, Jonathan Nash and Zachery Hernandez.
Buchanan stepped back in at quarterback and eventually lead the Gladiators down the field for Italy’s second score of the scrimmage. Buchanan followed backup center Jacob Lopez and Wilson across the goal line while being draped by two green tacklers to make the score 2-0.
With 10 plays remaining for Italy’s defensive unit, Jackson showed his tackling talents as well by making the stop on an Eagle reverse. Souder registered a big hit for Coach Richters as well. Moments later, however, the Eagles executed a big play to Italy’s 28-yard line. The Eagles passed on the following play but Clemons once again enforced the “no fly zone” over Italy’s defense and pounded the Valley Mills receiver in midair to force the ball to parachute out.
Jackson completed the debut of Richter’s defensive scheme with a 7-yard sack of the Eagles’ quarterback and when Richter’s was asked how he felt after his groups effort, he said, “We’ll be fine. We still have plenty of areas that need work but we’ll be fine.”
Making good on pre-game prediction by Italy’s assistant basketball coach Larry Mayberry, newcomer Jalarnce Jamal Lewis shot out of a cannon and covered 70-yards to score on Italy’s first play of the game. Mr. Erwin Green stated after the jaw-dropping dash, “I lost that bet.”
Italy’s JV offense again started from the 30-yard line. Justin Wood, who returns to the field after being sidelined with an arm injury last season, picked up four yards on his first carry followed by a completed pass from Tony Wooldridge to wideout Trevon Robertson. On 3rd and 5, Wooldridge was taken down on a rollout play and went to running back on the next play. Freshman quarterback Eric Carson made his first appearance and ran his first snap up the middle to get the first down.
Carson then handed off to Woolridge on back-to-back plays to pick up another first down, and Italy’s JV was officially driving down the field. Dominic Wilson made a critical block on the first down run that ruffled the feathers of an Eagle defender. Wilson didn’t participate in the post play antics and Italy huddled back up hungry for more.
Lewis earned just 2-yards on his second carry but a 36-yards per carry average, on 2 carries is still pretty good. Wood cuts back against the green grain for a short gain which setup a burst by Lewis down to the 5-yard line.
Wood tried to punch it in off the edge of the formation but was swarmed by a mob of angry Eagle defenders treating their endzone as if it were their nest. Lewis runs to the opposite side of the field, avoids a tackler, and trots in for the 5-yard touchdown to put Italy’s JV up 2-0.
Helping the JV advance the ball were offensive linemen Adrian Reed, Zachery Boykin, Darol Mayberry, Jake Escamilla, center Kevin Roldan, Bailey Walton and Cody Medrano.
On defense, Carson bolted into the Eagle backfield to thwart a sweep by Valley Mills for a 3-yard loss. Walton spoiled a reverse by the Eagles and stuffed the birds for a loss of 2-more yards. Boykin and Reed combined for a tackle soon after but the Eagles managed to connect on a pass the following play forcing Robertson to make a touchdown saving tackle from behind.
The Eagles tried a quarterback bootleg later in the game that seemed it might go somewhere but Wood tracked the Eagles quarterback to the sideline for just a 5-yard gain. Paul Harris made a tackle deep in the Eagles’ backfield to end the scrimmage with an exclamation point for the JV Defense.
Kudos to the Gladiators coaching staff for having both Varsity and JV squads ready to play.
The JV and Varsity Gladiators will scrimmage the Waco Reicher Catholic Cougars on Friday, August 20, starting at 6:00 p.m. in Waco.
The Cougars boast 4 State Champions (TAPPS DIV III) including three-peating from 2007-2009. However, the Cougars only have 3 returning letterman on offense and 2 on defense. The Cougars have great team speed but lack overall experience. Expect Italy’s defensive front to control the line of scrimmage against Waco Reicher’s youthful offensive line.
Cougars to watch: All-State DE Nick Martinez (6-1, 220, 4.7), RB Bryce Murphy (5-8, 180, 4.5), RB Isaac Gonzales (5-9, 150, 4.5), WR Andrew Drennan (6-0, 190, 4.6), DT Garlin Gonzalez (5-11, 235, 4.7).
The Gladiators return 6 All-District performers from their 2009 playoff team including the District M.V.P.:
Jasenio Anderson — 2009
- Collin Street Bakery/Texas Sports Writers Association’s Class A 1st Team All-State Punter.
- TSWA Honorable Mention All-State Quarterback
- TSWA Honorable Mention All-State Kick Returner
- District 21-A M.V.P.
- District 21-A 1st Team All-District Punter
- District 21-A 1st Team All-District Kicker
Heath Clemons — 2009
- District 21-A 1st Team All-District Wide Receiver
- District 21-A 2nd Team All-District Safety
Kyle Wilkins — 2009
- District 21-A 1st Team All-District Defensive End
Ethan Simon — 2009
- District 21-A 2nd Team All-District Inside Linebacker
Larry Mayberry — 2009
- District 21-A 1st Team All-District Offensive Lineman
Kyle Jackson — 2009
- District 21-A Honorable Mention
2010 2A-2 Region II District 11
- Italy (Co-District Champions 2005 – ’04, District Champions 2003)
- Blooming Grove