Palmer — When Italy Gladiators’ fans awoke Saturday morning, the sun was shining brighter, the grass was a bit greener and the old gold had returned some of its luster. After an 0-2 start to their season, the Italy Gladiators(1-2) get into the win column by handing the Palmer Bulldogs(1-2) their second loss of the season, 27-7 in Palmer’s own backyard.
Italy struck first at the 7:37 mark of the first quarter when quarterback Jasenio Anderson crossed the goal line from a few yards out to put the Gladiators up 6-0. Anderson’s point after kick was true, 7-0 Italy.
Both sides traded punts and 41-yarder by Anderson backed Palmer all the way to the Bulldogs’ 28-yard line. On second down and 10-yards to go from their own 46-yard line, a pass by the Bulldogs was broken up Gladiator safety Corrin Frazier to bring up third down. On the next play, Palmer passed again, but this time, Frazier intercepted the arrant pass and advanced the ball to the 35-yard line of Palmer.
Jase Holden collects a pass from Anderson gaining 9-yards. Anderson runs for the first down to the 23 of Palmer. Holden receives another pass inside the 10 and gets pushed out at the 1-yard line. A holding penalty on the play erases the effort giving Italy a first down and 20-yards to go at the Palmer 21-yard line.
The first quarter ends with Italy having a second and ten from the Palmer 11-yard line. On fourth and five from the 6, Anderson keeps the ball and runs in for his second touchdown of the game to increase Italy’s lead 13-0. The point after kick missed left, 11:30 to go in the first half.
The Bulldogs start from at midfield after the kickoff. A tackle by Italy’s Bobby Wilson leaves Palmer with a second and seven. Ethan Saxon makes the stop on the next run attempt by the Bulldogs but a pass gives Palmer a first down at the 38 of the Gladiators. With 8:18 left in the first half, defenders Larry Mayberry and Holden eventually combine for a tackle in Palmer’s backfield forcing Palmer to punt once again, Italy starts at their own 28-yard line.
On Italy’s first play, Anderson keeps out of the shotgun, breaks a tackle and then sprints 49-yards down the sideline to Palmer’s 23-yard line. Two plays later, after making a one-handed grab to control the shotgun snap and gaining a few yards, Anderson left the game temporarily due to illness. On the following play, back-up quarterback Justin Buchanan passed to the wide side of the field but was picked by the Bulldog defense. The interception gives Palmer first and ten on their own 22 with just over 5:00 remaining.
Palmer matriculated to Italy’s 35-yard line but a sack by Jacob Lopez separated the Bulldog quarterback from the ball and Jalarnce Jamal Lewis scooped it and scored. The touchdown was erased due to an inadvertent whistle and Italy was unable to capitalize on the turn in events. However, the half ended with Italy in control 13-0.
The award-wining Italy Gladiator Regiment Band and Flag Corp, guided by band director Jesus Perez, flag corp director Tina Richards, drum major Jessica Hernandez and assistant drum major Drenda Burk, marched during halftime while performing “Green Onions.” The Italy Flag Corp provided a wave of excitement thanks to senior captain Nikki Brashear, Bianca Evans and Megan Buchanan. Gladiator fans love their band!
Italy kicked to Palmer to start the third but a hard hit by Kyle Jackson jarred the bone loose from Bulldog runner allowing Frazier to recover the gift for the Gladiators. From the 38 of Palmer, a pass from Anderson to De’Andre Sephus gives Italy a first down at Palmer’s 14-yard line where Kyle Jackson fought his way thru a pack of Bulldogs for Italy’s third touchdown. Anderson dove in for the 2-point conversion to put the Gladiators up 21-0, 11: 41 to go in the second half playing 12:00 quarters.
Palmer starts from their 38 after the kickoff. Italy’s Lewis sacks the Bulldog quarterback for an 8-yard loss, second and 18-yards from a first down for the home team. A broken tackle in the backfield allows Palmer’s tailback to rumble all the way to Italy’s 27-yard line with Colton Campbell making a touchdown saving tackle. Moments later, a 15-yard personal foul call gainst Italy advances the Bulldogs to the 9-yard line of Italy, first and goal with 10:40 left in the third quarter.
Italy’s Sephus appears to stop the Bulldog runner near the line of scrimmage from his cornerback position but a facemask penalty places the ball half the distance to Italy’s goal line. Saxon and Jackson provide another big hit by the Gladiator defense to force a second and 13 but Palmer manages to score on a quarterback keeper with 9:21 left in the third. Palmer added the point after to make the score 21-7.
On Italy’s ensuing drive, Heath Clemons returned the Palmer kickoff out of the endzone to the 32-yard line of the Gladiators. Anderson went on to complete a 15-yard pass to Campbell, a 19-yard pass to Clemons who tiptoed the sideline and then dove for the nineteenth yard, a 26-yarder to Sephus and a 5-yarder to Devonta Simmons before bolting in from 18-yards out for his third touchdown on the night. The drive gives the Gladiators a 27-7 lead with 4:27 left in the third.
Italy’s De’Andre Rettig delivered the final reminder for Italy’s hard hitting defense on Friday night. With 7:46 remaining in the battle between rivals, Rettig’s hard tackle left the Bulldog tailback lingering on all fours, for a spell, at Palmer’s own 35-yard line. The Bulldogs never got a sniff of the goal line the remainder of the game and Italy held on for the win over Palmer, 27-7.
“It was an incredible effort by our team. Downpours earlier this week forced us to practice inside the gym. I credit our players for keeping their focus and taking care of business against Palmer,” smiled Italy’s head coach Craig Bales.
When asked if she thought their would be a noticeable change in Italy’s athletic director and head football coach Craig Bales’ demeanor after the Gladiators earned their first win of the 2010-2011 season, wife Jenny Bales commented, “Not really. Craig never brings the results on the field into the house…his mood stays fairly consistent.”
Craig’s mother Mary Bales added, “Even as a boy, Craig never got overly emotional after a win or a loss. When his senior year of high school football ended, I recall him saying, ‘Well, soccer’s next.’”
With the Thursday JV game cancelled, Coach Bales suited out four more sophomores for the game including Chase Hamilton, Jake Escamilla, Zackery Boykin and Paul Harris who provided excitement for the fans whenever one of the group entered the game.
Italy’s defense seemed more sure of themselves in this one. Teaching the new system implemented by defensive coordinator Jeff Richters has been a tedious task to say the least. On Friday night, however, the defense seemed more settled and the Gladiators lead by linebacker Ethan Simon, Ethan Saxon and Kyle Jackson were able to tee off on the Bulldogs. And with a healthy Anderson accounting for 3 of Italy’s 4 touchdowns on offense, it’s safe to say, “The ‘Beast’ is back!”
Italy High School and the Gladiators will celebrate Homecoming Friday, September 17. The game against the Hubbard Jaguars starts at 7:30 p.m. at Willis Field in Italy. — Welcome Home Alumni!