Gladiators win fourth straight to start 1-0 in district

Image: Heath Clemons keeps the Gladiators on track against Lions — Italy’s Heath Clemons(2) steps in at quarterback for the Gladiators after Jasenio Anderson and a fellow teammate took an early exit from the game after an on-field altercation with the Blooming Grove Lions. Clemons received help from his comrades in holding off the Lions 48-34. Above, Clemons hands to Jalarnce Jamal Lewis(30) who follows Kyle Jackson(28), Jacob Lopez(52), Brandon Souder(63) and Devonta Simmons(9) downfield.

Heath Clemons keeps the Gladiators on track against Lions — Italy’s Heath Clemons(2) steps in at quarterback for the Gladiators after Jasenio Anderson and a fellow teammate took an early exit from the game after an on-field altercation with the Blooming Grove Lions. Clemons received help from his comrades in holding off the Lions 48-34. Above, Clemons hands to Jalarnce Jamal Lewis(30) who follows Kyle Jackson(28), Jacob Lopez(52), Brandon Souder(63) and Devonta Simmons(9) downfield. (Barry Byers)

Blooming Grove — The Blooming Grove Lions(2-4), head coached by Scott Doring, hosted the Italy Gladiators(4-2), head coached by Craig Bales, Friday night in a 2A-2 Region II District 11 district opener for both sides. The Lions came off a 31-7 loss to Teague while the Gladiators were riding a three game winning streak coming into the contest after toppling the Life Mustangs 63-0 in their last outing.

The Gladiators started their first drive from their own 35-yard line and the Gladiators relied on their bullies up front including offensive linemen Brandon Souder, Larry Mayberry, Bobby Wilson, Ethan Simon, Omar Estrada and Jacob Lopez to advance the ball into Lion territory. On fourth and 7-yards to go on Blooming Grove’s 43-yard line, Italy’s quarterback Jasenio Anderson passes to Jase Holden for a first down at the Lion 20.

Another first down pass and two runs by Anderson gives the Gladiators a first down at the Lion 1-yard line. Anderson crosses the goal line on his next carry to put Italy on top 6-0. The point after kick by Anderson is true and Italy leads 7-0, 8:47 left in the first quarter.

Blooming Grove fair catches the kickoff and starts from their own 24-yard line. A tackle by Italy’s linebacker Ethan Simon and consecutive sacks, a combo sack by Wilson and De’Andre Rettig followed by a solo sack by Wilson, forces the Lions to punt, 7:10 to play in the first.

The punt is downed at Blooming Grove’s 47-yard line where a second down pass to Kyle Jackson gives Italy a third and short at the 38-yard line of the Lions. Anderson keeps to the 26 of the Lions and gets a first down at the 5:11 mark of the first quarter. Two plays later, a pass attempt from Anderson to Devonta Simmons is broken up by Blooming Grove’s Jayd Kirby but a run by Italy’s Kyle Jackson gives the Gladiators a third and five at the Lion 21.

On fourth and five, Anderson’s pass into the endzone to De’Andre Sephus is broken up by the Blooming Grove secondary. However, a roughing the passer penalty gives Italy a fresh set of downs and Heath Clemons carries to the 6-yard line of the Lions. Anderson runs off right guard, dives and reaches across the goal line for the touchdown, Anderson’s second on the night. Anderson’s point after kick made the score 14-0 Italy with 3:40 left in the opening quarter.

From their own 35, Blooming Grove’s Kirby settles in at quarterback as the Lions advance the ball all the way to Italy’s 2-yard line. Kirby dives in from there to get the Lion’s on the board, trailing Italy 14-6. The point after kick by Quindell Johnson counts to cut the deficit in half, 14-7 with 2:09 still remaining in the first.

Italy begins their next drive from the 36-yard line. A 3-yard run by Jalarnce Jamal Lewis and two consecutive pass receptions by Clemons results in an Italy first down at the Blooming Grove 36-yard line, 1:44 on the clock.

Anderson escapes left and reverses right, picks up blocks from Mayberry and Souder, and then steps out at the 18 of the Lions. Lewis runs it in from 18-yards out and the Gladiators again establish a 14-point lead after Anderson’s point after kick zips between the uprights, 1:24 still glowing on the clock.

On Blooming Grove’s next drive, a pass from Kirby to Stewart Chambers gives the Lions a second and two at the host team’s 36-yard line. Italy’s Simon pressures Kirby out of bounds on the next play followed by a sack from Rettig to force the Lions to punt as the first quarter ends.

After a clipping penalty during the punt backed the Gladiators deep on their on side of the field, a run by Anderson and a pass from Anderson to Clemons, who is tackled by Blooming Grove’s Brock McFarland, gives Italy a first down at the Lions 43-yard line. Clemons hauls in a 4-yard pass to the 39, with 10:59 left in the second quarter, giving the Gladiators a second and 6-yards to go. Lewis dazzles fans and befuddles Lion tacklers with an elusive run before being horse-collared down at the 12-yard line of Blooming Grove. The penalty spotted the ball half the distance to the goal at the 6 of the Lions.

After a penalty erases a touchdown toss from Anderson to Simmons, Anderson slings it to Holden, two plays later, who makes the catch at the goal line for another Gladiator touchdown. Anderson’s fourth point after kick gives Italy a 28-7 cushion with 9:16 left in the half.

On the ensuing kickoff, Blooming Grove’s Ty Chambers rumbles 27-yards to the 45 of the Gladiators. Blooming Grove can only muster eight more yards when Kirby is forced to throw away a fourth down pass attempt. The Gladiators take over at their own 19 and Anderson keeps to the 35-yard line of Italy after being tackled by Blooming Grove’s Chambers.

Italy’s Kyle Jackson runs for 8-yards but the Gladiators are unable to reach the first down marker and Anderson punts it away. A 50-yarder, Anderson’s punt backs the Lions to their own 18-yard line. A pass from Kirby to Davante Starling earns the Lions 9-yards to the 27. Offsides on Italy gives Blooming Grove a first down at their own 32-yard line, 4:57 remains in the first half. The next two Lion pass attempts fall incomplete. Simon hits Kirby as the Lion quarterback releases another pass and Jackson intercepts, eluding tacklers to the 31-yard line of Blooming Grove.

At the tail end of the play, a small skirmish between a couple of opposing players resulted in ejections on both sides. The Gladiators lost two players including Anderson who was trying to separate the offenders. A dismayed Gladiator coaching staff scrambled to fill the void left by Anderson who plays multiple roles for the Gladiators including quarterback, linebacker, punter and place kicker.

With backup quarterback Justin Buchanan sidelined with an injury, Gladiator head coach Craig Bales called on Clemons, Italy’s leading receiver, to take the snaps from Simon. A rejuvenated Lion defense made sure Clemons struggled to find any rhythm and a fourth down pass attempt by Clemons was batted down by Kirby allowing Blooming Grove to reclaim possession of the ball at their own 40-yard line, 1:52 left in the half.

Kirby passes to Peyton Southard for 4-yards. Italy’s Rettig pressures Kirby into throwing his next pass incomplete. Kirby finds Johnson on the following play for a first down at Italy’s 47-yard line. Rettig again bats down a pass attempt by Kirby but the Lion’s quarterback keeps at it, and on the next play, connects with Chambers for a first down at Italy’s 31-yard line, 1:18 to play before the break.

After a false start by Blooming Grove, Kirby hits Johnson in stride down the Blooming Grove sideline for a touchdown. The point after try by Johnson sails just right of the pole, Italy continues to lead 28-13.

Italy’s Holden fair catches the Lion’s kickoff at the Gladiator 33-yard line. Clemons hands to Jackson who finds a running lane but gets stripped of the ball and Blooming Grove recovers at Italy’s 36-yard line. With 0:59 still to play in the half, Kirby fires a pass in the direction of Italy’s endzone but Simmons intercepts to squash Blooming Grove’s momentum and preserves Italy’s 28-13 advantage as the eventful first half winds down.

Kirby comes out passing to start the second half but it was a 60-yard touchdown scamper by Kirby that intensified the game at the 10:12 mark of the third quarter. The effort pulls the Lions within reach of the Gladiators, 28-20, after Johnson’s point after kick cleared.

Italy starts their first possession of the second half from their own 39-yard line. Lewis runs for 8-yards followed by Clemons who advances the ball all the way to the Blooming Grove 5-yard line. Kyle Wilkins takes the handoff from Clemons and chugs his way across the goal line to the exuberance of the Gladiators’ sideline and fans. With Anderson out of the game and unavailable to attempt the P.A.T., Clemons tries to run in for the 2-point conversion but gets stopped in the backfield, 34-20 Italy leads with 9:09 left in the third.

Blooming Grove starts at the 49 of Italy after the kickoff by Italy’s Jackson, normally the role of Anderson. Several plays later, a pass from Kirby to Southard gives the Lions a fourth and 1-yard to go at Italy’s 7-yard line. Kirby runs around the right side for the touchdown and Johnson’s point after kick keeps the Lions hanging around, 34-27 with 5:31 remaining in the quarter.

Italy is unable to threaten on their following possession and Jackson’s punt travels 43-yards to Blooming Grove’s 22-yard line. However, the Lions are unable to take advantage of Italy’s misfortune and punt the ball back to the Gladiators who start from their own 32-yard line. Runs by Clemons and Lewis give Italy a third down and 6-yards to go at midfield. An offsides penalty gives Italy a third down and 1-yard to go. Clemons picks up the needed yard for the first down at the Lion’s 41. Clemons is tackled on the play by Blooming Grove’s Rustin Feaster to end the third quarter.

A hard hit by Blooming Grove’s Chambers temporarily sidelines Italy’s Jackson with an ankle injury and leaves the Gladiators staring at a fourth down and 9-yards to go on the 22 of Blooming Grove. A Clemons pass into the endzone, intended for Holden, lands out-of-bounds and the Lions regain offensive control with 9:22 left in the game.

With 8:30 remaining and faced with a third and long from the Lions’ 30-yard line, Kirby rolls right looking for receivers down field. Simultaneously, Italy’s defense was looking for Kirby and they found him. Simon, who was a warrior from his linebacker position all game, eventually gets to Kirby during a quarterback scramble and sacks the leader of the pack from behind. Kirby looses the ball and Mayberry recovers for the Gladiators at Blooming Grove’s 23-yard line.

With 5:40 remaining, Clemons escapes the pocket and reaches the 3-yard line of the Lions. Lewis runs it in on the next play to give Italy breathing room, 40-27. Clemons tries to pass for the 2-point conversion but gets wrapped up and pitches to teammate Souder, an offensive lineman, who does his best to reach the goal line but the Gladiators are unable to get the conversion.

The Lions experience tough luck on the ensuing kickoff from Jackson and must start from their own 3-yard line. A second solo sack by Rettig backs Blooming Grove to the 1-yard line. Two plays later, on fourth and 13-yards to go, Kirby launches a pass from his own endzone and connects with Landon McGraw for a first down at Italy’s 41-yard line, 3:20 remains.

Three straight pass completions form Kirby to McGraw, Johnson and Southard gives the Lions a second down at Italy’s 17-yard line. The Gladiators take a timeout but Kirby passes into the endzone for a touchdown after the brief break. Blooming Grove runs in for the 2-point conversion to make the score 40-34 with the Gladiators desperately trying to hang on for the win, 2:09 remaining.

Blooming Grove’s onside kick takes a perfect hop over Italy’s front line but slips thru McGraw’s fingers. Holden falls on the loose ball at the Italy 40-yard line to the delight of Gladiator fans. Lewis and Clemons help advance the ball past midfield. Blooming Grove uses their final timeout. Clemons keeps the ball and keeps on trucking, 48-yards for the door shutting touchdown. Italy goes up 46-34 with 1:07 left. Despite having a sore ankle, Jackson replaces the fatigued Clemons at quarterback and sprints in for the 2-point conversion, 48-34 Italy.

The excitement wasn’t quite over yet. With 0:35 left, Blooming Grove has the ball and Kirby tries to buy time in the pocket but gets sacked by Italy’s Lewis and Mayberry. The hit dislodges the ball from Kirby’s grip and Souder scoopes it up and heads for the endzone. Souder is unable to reach the goal line but he did get to live the lineman’s dream on two separate plays Friday night, the pitch earlier from Clemons and the defensive fumble recovery and run. Good times.

The game ends with the Gladiators winning their fourth straight as they begin their 2010 district campaign 1-0 after outlasting the Lions in a wild one, 48-34.

Coach Bales thanked Clemons for his strong performance in the second half and complimented the team on sticking together through adversity. Italy will try for district win number two when they take on Buffalo, in an away game for the Gladiators, on Friday, October 15, starting at 7:30 p.m. in Buffalo.

Truly a team win, credit the Gladiator defense whose two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and multiple sacks kept constant pressure on the Lions. Larry “Hunchie” Mayberry, Bobby “B-Wil” Wilson, Jalarnce Jamal Lewis and De’Andre “Rig” Rettig are a ferocious front four. In fact, Italy’s ‘bigs’ played a huge role on both sides of the ball. Thank you Jase Holden for executing all those fair catches on the kickoff return and for covering the onside kick attempt by Blooming Grove late in the fourth quarter.

Kyle Jackson was Beast-like filling in for Anderson on punts and kickoffs. Congrats to the entire Gladiator roster for coming out in the second half confident and ready to play. Ethan Simon was a predator against the Lions on defense. Anderson’s first half contributions should not be overlooked as the Senior appeared to be well on his way to his best rushing night of the season. And if you happen to bump into Heath Clemons this week, give that young man a pat on the back.

Italy will challenge Buffalo next. The Gladiators (4-2,1-0) will try for their second district win against the Bison (4-3,0-1) on Friday, October 15, an away game starting at 7:30 p.m. Buffalo was upset in their district opener 18-14 by Centerville.

Gladiators’ stat leaders:

Rushing: Heath Clemons 14-122, Jasenio Anderson 12-92, Jalarnce Jamal Lewis 12-35, Kyle Jackson 9-30

Passing: Jasenio Anderson 9-16-0-2-165, Heath Clemons 0-4-0-0

Receiving: Heath Clemons 6-60, Jase Holden 1-33, Kyle Jackson 1-11, Kyle Wilkins 1-21

Lions’ stat leaders:

Rushing: Jayd Kirby 18-82, Stewart Chambers 3-31

Passing: Jayd Kirby 28-49-2-2-323

Receiving: Quindell Johnson 8-102, Stewart Chambers 6-68, Landon McGraw 5-82, Jacob Conger 5-42, Peyton Southard 4-29

2010 Italy Gladiators:

No. Gladiator Class
2 Heath Clemons Sr.
3 Colton Campbell Sr.
6 Jase Holden Jr.
7 Kyle Wilkins Sr.
8 Eduardo Garcia Sr.
9 Devonta Simmons Jr.
10 Justin Buchanan Jr.
11 Jasenio Anderson Sr.
20 De’Andre Sephus Sr.
24 Chase Hamilton So.
25 Corrin Frazier Jr.
28 Kyle Jackson Jr.
30 Jalarnce Jamal Lewis So.
44 Ethan Saxon Jr.
50 Ethan Simon Sr.
52 Jacob Lopez Sr.
56 Omar Estrada Jr.
60 De’Andre Rettig Jr.
63 Brandon Souder Jr.
64 Bobby Wilson Sr.
77 Larry Mayberry Jr.
85 Tavarus Griffin Sr.

Go Gladiators!