JH & JV Gladiators battle Lions inside the Willis Field arena

Image: Gladiators hang on to a Lion but Blooming Grove holds on for win — Italy’s JaRay Anderson(9), Colton Petrey(6) and Kyle Fortenberry(50) rough up a Blooming Grove Lion running back during solid performance by both Junior High squads. At the final buzzer, the Lions let out a roar after winning 14-0 at Willis Field in Italy.

Gladiators hang on to a Lion but Blooming Grove holds on for win — Italy’s JaRay Anderson(9), Colton Petrey(6) and Kyle Fortenberry(50) rough up a Blooming Grove Lion running back during solid performance by both Junior High squads. At the final buzzer, the Lions let out a roar after winning 14-0 at Willis Field in Italy. (Barry Byers)

ITALY — The Italy Junior High football team and their counterparts, the Blooming Grove Lions, were evenly matched for most of the first half with both sides countering the others’ move.

BG stopped Italy’s opening drive with a stolen pass but Italy’s Colton Petrey stopped the interceptor at the 35-yard line of the Gladiators with a big hit. Two plays later, the Lions run to the 4-yard line where Petrey makes the tackle. Italy’s JaRay Anderson sacks the BG quarterback on the next play back at the 10-yard line with 5:40 left on the first quarter clock.

On third and eight, BG throws incomplete into the endzone and the young Lions lineup for a field goal attempt. A poor snap forces BG’s kicker to attempt a pass but Petrey pressures the passer resulting in an incompletion. By rule, Italy takes over possession at their own 20-yard line.

Runs by John Escamilla and Cody Boyd gives Italy a third down and 7-yards to go. Quarterback Ryan Connor keeps for the first down on the next play to Italy’s 30-yard line. Connor then threatens to pass but tucks and runs for 2-yards. Connor keeps again on the next play, starts right and then cuts left to the 40-yard line. First down Gladiators! Italy loses 4-yards on a sweep play. Connor again shows pass and then runs 10-yards for a third and six at the Gladiator 46-yard line to end the opening quarter.

Italy gains nine more yards but is unable to manage the first down. BG takes over
and their first try up the middle is walled off by Italy’s defensive front including Kelton Bales, Kyle Fortenberry and John Byers. BG tries going left on the next play but Italy’s Levi Stark makes the defensive play. Anderson makes another tackle in the Lion’s backfield with 4:15 left in the second quarter and BG punts it away.

Trying to make a play, Petrey tracks down the punt and picks up the ball off the hop in traffic. Despite the gutsy maneuver, BG quickly makes the tackle on Petrey. From their own 10-yard line, Connor hands to Lance Peck who picks his way thru a pack of Lions for 3-yards. (Try saying that three times real fast!)

Connor keeps up the middle for two more, third and five at Italy’s 25-yard line with 2:44 to play before halftime. Connor hands off to Anderson who escapes the BG blitz initially but gets taken down for a 9-yard loss. Connor punts it over to the Lions with 1:20 remaining in the half. The Lions can taste the endzone starting from Italy’s 27-yard line.

BG’s first two pass attempts fall incomplete but a third straight pass by the Lions is caught in the endzone for the first score of the game. BG leads 6-0 with 0:43 left before the break and the Lions lineup for the point after kick. The young Lion kicker clears the uprights like a pro and the ball lands atop the Gladiator field house needing to be retrieved.

Not done yet, BG’s ensuing kickoff bounces into the endzone for a touchback. The Gladiators run one play into the middle of the Lions’ line to end the half.

To start the second half, Caden Petrey strips the ball from the BG kick returner. Peck recovers for the Gladiators. A pass from Connor to Cody Boyd just misses in the left flat. Connor’s next run gets back to the line-of-scrimmage. Connor tries again drawing a facemask penalty against the Lions to give Italy a first down at the BG 23-yard line.

Runs by Connor and Boyd nets just 1-yard and a deep snap over the helmet of Connor forces Italy to punt. Anderson knocks the ball out at the 10-yard line where BG starts their first possession of the third quarter, 2:24 left.

BG moves the ball across midfield and into the final quarter. Tackles by Peck and Connor temporarily keep the Lions penned back. BG finally breaks one and sprints 70-yards for their second touchdown. The point after kick counts, 14-0 Lions lead with 6:25 remaining in the contest.

After the ensuing kickoff, Italy executes their offense but is left with a fourth down and short at their own 41-yard line. With 5:00 still to play and down by two scores, the Gladiators go for it and Connor fires deep down Italy’s sideline to Petrey who almost makes the over the shoulder catch. BG takes over on downs.

Tackles by Connor and Petrey leave BG needing to convert a fourth and four. BG completes a pass to Italy’s 30-yard line for a first down with 2:04 left. BG runs for 4-yards on first down but a combo tackle by Brandon Connor and Byers force BG into a third down with 0:32 left to play.

BG runs for the first down. On the next play, the entire Gladiator defensive front charges into the Lion backfield for a group tackle. And for the never quit effort displayed by the JH Gladiators defense, they received a loud ovation from the home stands as the game ended.

Italy’s JV game vs. Blooming Grove:
Gladiator Dominic Wilson returned the opening kickoff to the Italy’s own 40-yard line. With sophomore quarterback Tony Wooldridge sidelined with a severe shoulder injury, freshman Eric Carson took over the reigns for the JV Gladiators who stumbled out of the gate initially after a fumble in the backfield was recovered by BG at the home teams 38-yard line.

BG only netted 2-yards on their first run try after a combo tackle by Hank Seabolt and Bailey Walton. Two plays later, BG went for it on fourth and three and came out the backside of the rugby scrum with a first down at Italy’s 23-yard line, 7:12 to go in the first quarter.

The Lions again tried the middle and Italy’s Zain Byers makes the stop. On fourth and 2-yards to go for the Lions, Jake Escamilla gets the tackle, with help from Seabolt, to force a fourth and one. Hoping the Gladiators were thinking middle, the Lions run right but Carson makes the tackle from his cornerback position. A measurement was needed to prove the Lion runner landed 6" short of the first down marker and Italy regains control at their own thirteen.

Italy’s next snap was off the mark and Carson recovered back at the six. Italy finds their rhythm on the next play and Carson slings it to Harris who makes the catch at the 18-yard line for a third and three. Chase Hamilton carries to the twenty-four on the next play and Italy climbs out of the hole, first down with 2:44 left in the quarter.

Runs by Hamilton and Justin Wood move the ball near the 40-yard line before Carson keeps up the middle and has a chance to cross midfield but the ball is stripped by the Lions. Byers dives on the loose ball at Italy’s 47-yard line to save the possession for the JV Gladiators. Hamilton rumbles to the thirty-two of the Lions and the final seconds of the quarter roll off the clock.

Italy’s first running play of the second quarter loses 3-yards but Carson shoots a pass to Trevon Robertson who makes the grab for a 35-yard touchdown reception. Hold everything! A holding penalty erases the scoring effort and the JV Gladiators are left with a second and twenty-four from the 43-yard line. Italy loses 3-yards on their next run but Carson finds Hamilton near the endzone who makes a catch and is tackled at the 4-yard line.

First and goal from the four, Italy’s next two carries result in a 2-yard loss at the Lions six. Carson completes to Hamilton but the JV Gladiators are staring at a fourth and goal. A low snap is mishandled by Hamilton and the Lions recover at their own 9-yard line. BG advances the ball to the 31-yard line but a holding call backs them to the twenty-one resulting in a third and eleven with 3:02 left in the first half.

BG tries to make up the yardage in one play but Italy’s Robertson gets the pick and returns the ball to the 9-yard line of the Lions. With 2:30 still remaining in the half, Italy’s first two pass attempts drop incomplete so Carson keeps the ball and dashes toward the left pylon of the end zone. With defenders in the way, Carson catapults himself toward the goal line and lands at the 1-yard line. Hamilton scores from there and Italy strikes first 6-0 with 2:10 remaining in the half. The conversion unsuccessful, 6-0 Italy.

After the kickoff by Kevin Roldan, BG starts from their 18-yard line. The Lions’ first play is a pass that lands incomplete. After breaking a tackle on the second play, a BG runner sprints 82-yards for the touchdown. The Lions’ 2-point conversion is successful and the Lions take the lead, 8-6 with 1:28 left in the first half.

Wilson covers the kickoff at the 35-yard line of Italy. Carson carries around the left end for 5-yards. A pass from Carson to Trevon Robertson, who avoids tacklers and dances his way to the 12-yard line, puts Italy in scoring position with just over 1:00 still to play. Carson takes off and gets pushed out at the 3-yard line which stops the clock with 0:53 showing.

Hamilton crosses the goal line from there to put the JV Gladiators back in front, 12-8. Carson attempts a conversion pass to Robertson at the goal line but the connection cannot be made.

Roldan ‘eventually’ kicks off and Bailey Walton tackles the BG return man at the Lions’ 39-yard line with forty-four ticks left on the clock. Italy’s Harris makes a tackle but BG gets the first at midfield. Seabolt makes another solo tackle to dash any BG hopes of taking the lead and Italy leads at the break 12-8.

Roldan kicks to BG to start the second half. The Lions’ offense advances the ball across the 40-yard line but a fumble by BG is recovered by Wood and Italy takes over at the Lions’ 43-yard line with 5:38 to go in the third quarter.

Carson passes to Robertson for 3-yards to setup second and 7-yards needed for the first. Carson keeps the snap from Walton and gets to the 31-yard line for a first down. Hamilton breaks tackles and breaks free for a 31-yard touchdown with 3:52 to play in the third. The conversion run was stopped by the Lions and Italy leads 18-8.

Roldan’s kick finds the endzone for a touchback. BG picks up a first down and then passes for more but Deiondre Cockran intercepts the ball and the JV Gladiators take over at their 43-yard line. After a false start call, Italy is left with second and fifteen from their own thirty-eight. Hamilton carries to the 41-yard line of the Lions for 22-yards and a first down. The JV Gladiators pickup another first down at the thirty-two of the Lions and Carson carries to the twenty-four. A holding stalls the JV Gladiator drive and Robertson punts it away.

After a solid return, BG starts from their own thirty with 6:54 left in the game, still trailing 18-8. Wood tackles a BG runner for a 6-yard loss. With Roldan inserted at middle linebacker, the Lions offense sputters and BG punts back to Italy. Italy threatens to score late in the contest but the game ends with the JV Gladiators winning 18-8 to the delight of coach Stephen Coleman and the rest of the Gladiators coaching staff.

Nice job Gladiators!