Italy receives rude welcome from three-time defending TAPPS Champs

Image: Heath Clemons fights for the endzone — Italy Gladiator Brandon Souder(62) tries to lead teammate Heath Clemons across the goal line and thru a pack of Waco Reicher Catholic Cougars during a Varsity scrimmage in Waco on Friday.

Heath Clemons fights for the endzone — Italy Gladiator Brandon Souder(62) tries to lead teammate Heath Clemons across the goal line and thru a pack of Waco Reicher Catholic Cougars during a Varsity scrimmage in Waco on Friday. (Barry Byers)

Waco — The three-time defending TAPPS Division III Sate Champion Waco Reicher Catholic Cougars did not approach Friday’s scrimmage against the Italy Gladiators as if it were a church picnic, and with a physical nature, showed why they are the champs. Consequently, The Gladiators learned a couple of valuable lessons from the experience: 1.) Never under estimate your opponent 2.) Never under estimate your opponent.

The Cougars’ aggression is exactly what Gladiator head coach Craig Bales was hoping for. Playing tough opponents before the regular season provides a great opportunity to learn and grow as a team.

Traditionally, the Gladiators have always scheduled larger schools or especially those with proven football programs to better prepare for district battles. As a 1A school, many fans may recall the knock-down-drag-outs Italy had with the 3A Whitney Wildcats back in the day….good times.

And on Friday, with a total of 10 TAPPS state championships under their belt, the Cougars were certainly hoping to make a statement in this one but as the games intensity progressed so did the Gladiators on their opening drive, all the way to the Cougar’s 4-yard line. During the drive, Italy’s offense benefited on 48-yard carry by Heath Clemons to move the ball to Reicher’s 21-yard line and a catch by receiver De’Andre Sephus that spotted the ball at the 14.

Quarterback Jasenio Anderson made his second of two first down gaining carries to give Italy a 1st and goal at the 10-yard line. Short runs by Kyle Jackson and Clemons pushed the ball to the 4 but the Gladiators were unable to score on their next two pass attempts and had to start their next possession from the 30-yard line on their on end of the field.

The Cougars were still pumped from the previous goal line stand and first Italy’s offensive set ended with a sack.

The Cougars then take over for their first set of plays from their own 30-yard line. Although Reicher’s initial drive stalled, the Cougars get a big run down to Italy’s 18-yard line and capitalize off the effort with a 3-yard touchdown pass, 1-0 Reicher leads.

Reicher returns to the 30 and begins again but an offensive pass interference call and a sack by Saxon eventually ends the Cougars’ first set of offensive plays.

Justin Buchanan steps behind center Ethan Simon to direct the next offensive set for the Gladiators and completes a pass of 12-yards to Corrin Frazier at the 42. Jalarnce Jamal Lewis carries twice in a row for little yardage and Buchanan’s next pass attempt to Eddie Garcia went incomplete forcing Italy to regroup back at the 30.

Buchanan carries for 1-yard to start the drive and then throws to Frazier who was a mugging victim on the play but Italy doesn’t get the call and is left with 2nd down. Buchanan’s next throw to Jase Holden was also prematurely broken-up by the same Cougar defender and Italy gets awarded the apparent make-up call as Reicher’s fans felt the ball was uncatchable.

Finally with a bit of momentum, the Gladiators fumble it away on the next play and again must restart from the 30-yard line. A pass to Saxon moves the ball to the 34-yard line but then a long run by Buchanan is erased after Italy is charged with clipping on the play. The ball gets spotted back to Italy’s 26-yard line. Italy’s Devonta Simmons hauls in a pass from Buchanan advancing the ball to the 44. Two plays later, Colton Campbell makes a catch to the 39 of the Cougars but the Gladiators run out of plays and the ball goes over to Reicher.

Reicher’s first play is a pass downfield to Italy’s 31-yard line. The Cougars continue toward Italy’s goal line and eventually run in for their second score of the night, 2-0 Cougars. Reicher goes again from their 30-yard line but is unable to score before their offensive set ends.

Live Quarter:
Simulating a live football quarter of play, scoreboard and all, both teams took a quick break before returning to action. Italy had the ball first and a run by Anderson, who returned to the game in place of Buchanan at quarterback, and a run by Jackson gave the Gladiators a first down and a fresh outlook on things.

Unfortunately, the momentum was fleeting and Anderson, a 1st-team all-state punter, kicked a 32-yarder to Reicher’s 30-yard line.

The Cougars offense puts together a solid drive to again make it into the red zone of the Gladiators. A low pass by the Cougars was deflected up and linebacker Ethan Saxon seemingly made the interception before the ball landed in the grass. Unfortunately, the pass was ruled incomplete by the referee and the Cougar’s ran across the goal line on the next play to take a 6-0 lead in the live quarter simulation. The P.A.T. made it 7-0 Reicher, 6:23 remaining.

Anderson stays in for the Gladiators at quarterback but his primary mission coming into the game was not to get injured, which included no defensive reps. However, sensing his team needed a boost, Anderson unveiled his skills for the first time and played cat and mouse with the Cougars for about 13-yards before going down on his own accord to ensure his safety. “Thank you for going down,” sighed Italy’s line coach Stephen Coleman from the sideline.

Anderson kept himself reigned in and eventually punted a 45-yarder into the hands of a waiting Cougar. And with his final few minutes in the game, Anderson was able to send his teammates and Gladiators’ fans a memo, “Don’t worry, everything is just fine in Gladiator land.”

With 0:30 left, Reicher did manage to score on a pass that cleared the outstretched arms of two Gladiator defenders to take a 13-0 lead and ultimately a 14-0 win in the quarter simulation.

Gladiators’ Highlights:
Bobby Wilson and Kyle Wilkins both recorded sacks and Kyle Jackson helped separate the Cougars’ quarterback from his helmet. Colton Campbell made an aerial catch in tight coverage and linebackers Jacob Lopez and Ethan Simon were strong in the box. Heath Clemons will once again be a playmaker for the Gladiators this season and the kicking leg of Jasenio Anderson is as vital a weapon as his throwing arm.

JV Scrimmage vs. Waco Reicher Catholic Cougars:
Italy’s Jalarnce Jamal lewis took the opening handoff of last weeks scrimmage against Valley Mills 70-yards for a touchdown. During Friday’s scrimmage against the Reicher Cougars, Italy fans had to wait for the second play to watch Lewis rumble 73-yards to put Italy’s JV up 1-0.

But Italy’s fans didn’t have to wait long for Lewis’s next amazing run which covered 70-yards for the second JV score of the game, 2-0 Italy.

On the following possession, a penalty backed Italy up to the 20-yard line. Quickly making up for the lost yardage, Chase Hamilton races around the left end for a 90-yard touchdown run to give Italy’s JV a 3-0 advantage.

Starting from the 30-yard line again, a pass from Tony Wooldridge to Trevon Robertson netted 12-yards but a penalty brought the ball back to the 37. Robertson’s next catch picked up 1-yard but Italy’s first set of plays ended and the Cougar’s took control of the ball from the 30.

A sack by Italy’s JV defense forced a fumble but the Cougars recovered. The Cougars drive to the 17 of Italy and take a shot into the endzone but Eric Carson deflects the pass to force a third down. Cougars burst up the middle for the score but the point is taking away due to an illegal formation call on the offense.

The teams replay third down and the Cougars throw into the endzone again but Italy’s Robertson had the route covered for no score. The Cougars next pass dropped incomplete and the Italy’s JV execute the goal line stand. Cougars return to the 30.

Reicher’s first set of offensive plays came to an end with Italy’s Carson making a tackle to keep the Cougars caged followed a by a quick and aggressive move by right defensive tackle Jake Escamilla to close the gap and ram the Cougar runner into the ground.

Italy’s JV took over at the 30 for their second set of offensive plays with Carson taking a turn at quarterback. The second play was a pass to Robertson for a gain of 12 to the 45-yard line. Italy continued to drive to the 35 of the Cougars. Back-to-back handoffs from Carson to Hamilton produced a first down at the 20 of the Cougars.

Lewis finished off the drive with a zagging run thru the middle to put Italy up 4-0 in the scrimmage.

From the 30, Italy’s Justin Wood broke outside and the backs of the Cougars’ faithful with 53-yard run to the 17 of Reichers. Michael Clark made it look easy as he bounded around the left end for the JV’s fifth score of the contest, 5-0 Italy.

Italy returned to defense and and the Cougars immediately went to the air but Carson and Robertson combined for an aerial deflection to force an incomplete pass. The Cougars next play was a run that had them heading toward the endzone but Cody Medrano tracked the Cougar runner down from behind to keep Reicher out of the endzone.

After Carson tackled a Cougar receiver knocking him out-of-bounds before he could reach the first down marker, Escamilla made another tackle to back the Cougars up 1-yard. Reicher’s next pass fell incomplete and the Cougars drive stalled and they returned to the 30-yard line.

Reicher’s last attempt at a score was foiled by Carson who challenged the Cougar receiver in midair to disrupt the catch along Italy’s sideline. The pass sailed out and Italy’s JV briefly celebrated their 5-0 win over the Cougars.

Italy JV Gladiators vs. Maypearl JV Panthers @ Willis Field in Italy on Thursday, August 26, at 6:00 p.m.

Italy Gladiators vs. Maypearl Panthers away in Maypearl on Friday, August 27, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Go Gladiators!