Overcoming a week one loss to Axtel, 42-27, the Leon Cougars have pounced back into contention within 2A-2 Region II District 11 with wins over Centerville, 33-6, and now the Italy Gladiators with a dramatic fourth quarter comeback.
Italy starts on their own twenty-seven and five plays into the drive, a pass from Gladiator quarterback Jasenio Anderson to teammate Kyle Wilkins covers 28-yards and gives Italy a first down at the Leon Cougar’s 40-yard line. Kyle Jackson runs for 3-yards and Anderson keeps for eight more. Jackson is tackled for a 1-yard loss setting up a fourth and three for Italy at the Cougar’s thirty-one. Anderson is tackled short of the sticks and Leon takes over on downs at the 8:13 mark of the first quarter.
With Kirby Watson calling the plays for the Cougar’s offense, Leon starts their first possession from their own 32-yard line. Tailback Jay Hayes gains 1-yard on his first carry followed by Hector Rivera who runs for 4-yards. A pass from Watson intended for Kyle Bumpurs is off the mark and Leon punts with 6:58 to play in the first quarter.
After the 46-yard punt by Juan Hernandez, Italy starts their quest for 6-points from their on 13-yard line. On the first play, Anderson’s pass to Devonta Simmons lands incomplete. On Italy’s second try, Jackson takes the handoff from Anderson and battles his way thru a maze of Cougars’ defenders for 58-yards and a first down at Leon’s twenty-eight. Jamal Jalarnce Lewis carries for 9-yards but Lewis is stopped for no gain on his next attempt.
On third down and 2-yards to go, Anderson tests the air, yet again, and connects with Simmons who lands out-of-bounds in the endzone. The miss sets up a forth down and two for the Gladiators at Leon’s twenty. Anderson keeps the ball but gets knocked into the sideline margin at Leon’s 19-yard line. For the second time, Anderson is stopped on a fourth down run by the Cougars’ defense and Leon takes over at their own nineteen, 5:07 still to play in the opening quarter.
Watson throws incomplete to Rivera and then fumbles the snap on the following play. Fortunately for the Cougars, offensive lineman Cason McCune recovers to avoid a catastrophe for the Cougars. Hayes slips thru the Gladiator defense and covers 34-yards to Italy’s forty-six before being tackled from behind by Gladiator right tackle De’Andre Rettig, 4:12 left in first. Hayes then earns 7-yards on his next two carries but a penalty backs the Cougars to the 50-yard line.
Gladiator linebacker Ethan Simon stops Hayes at the line-of-scrimmage to force a third and fourteen needed for the Cougars. Watson then passes to Bumpurs who is quickly tackled by Heath Clemons at the Italy 36-yard line, 2:05 remaining in the quarter. On fourth and one, Hayes runs and then leaps for a first down at the Gladiator 31-yard line.
Hayes then runs right and cuts back toward the middle of the field where he is met violently by Italy’s Wilkins at the Gladiators’ 24-yard line, second and four for the Cougars, 0:59 left. Two plays later, Hayes carries for another Cougar first down at Italy’s 13-yard line to end the first quarter with the game still tied 0-0.
Rivera carries for 6-yards. Watson fumbles the snap again but covers it himself to preserve the Leon drive. Hayes picks up 6-yards to the Gladiator 3-yard line. Rivera does the honors from there and runs off left tackle for the 3-yard touchdown, 6-0 Cougars. Garrett Robertson bangs in the point after kick and Leon leads 7-0 with 10:20 still to play in the first half.
Robertson kicks off to the Gladiators and Italy begins from their own 33-yard line after a short return by Jase Holden. A penalty sends Italy backwards before Anderson connects with Clemons for a 14-yard completion to the Gladiator 47-yard line and a firs down. Anderson keeps for 2-yards and Jackson runs for two more. On third and seven, Anderson keeps the ball again but can only earn 1-yard. Anderson steps back to punt it away on fourth down but Leon’s T.J. Tadlock blocks Anderson’s kick and Drake Jones recovers for the Cougars at Italy’s 30-yard line.
Rivera carries twice for 6-yards and Hayes runs for three more yards. On third and one, Rivera runs for the first down after a gain of three. The Gladiator defense, lead by tackle Bobby Wilson and Jackson, halts Leon’s push toward the goal line. A holding penalty charged to Leon eventually leaves Robertson to attempt a 29-yard field goal from Italy’s 19-yard line. Robertson’s kick just clears the bottom bar to give the Cougars a 10-0 advantage, 4:41 remains in the first half.
Robertson’s ensuing kickoff is fielded at Italy’s 31-yard line by De’Andre Sephus who returns the ball 49-yards to Leon’s 20-yard line. Anderson controls the ball on three straight gains but only manages 5-yards. The Gladiators get help when Leon jumps offsides lured by an Anderson hard count. The penalty results in a first down for the Gladiators. Jackson runs for 2-yards followed by a pass from Anderson to Clemons who makes the catch inside Leon’s 5-yard line. Clemons breaks one tackle but is hit and fumbles out-of-bounds at the 3-yard line.
Determined, Anderson keeps up the middle and carries Cougars’ defenders into the endzone to tighten the deficit 10-6. Anderson kicks the extra point past the uprights and over the Jimmy Davis Memorial Field House to make the score 10-7, Leon continues to lead with 1:22 left before halftime.
Anderson kicks off to the Cougars who begin from their own 28-yard line. Leon’s counter drive quickly stalls and the Cougars punt the ball back over to the Gladiators with 0:53 remaining. Starting from the Gladiator 16-yard line, Jackson breaks for a 29-yard scamper to the forty-five of Italy.
A late hit charged to Leon on the play, spotted the ball at the Cougar 40-yard line with 0:31 showing on the clock. Anderson then passes to Sephus who breaks away from two Leon tacklers and spins into the endzone. After covering 84-yards in thirty seconds, Italy leads for the first time, 13-10, with 0:23 left. Anderson’s point after kick counts to extend the Gladiators’ advantage 14-10.
After the kickoff by Anderson, Leon’s Rivera runs 14-yards before being upended by Clemons. After two unsuccessful passing tries, Leon’s Hernandez tries a reverse run but Rettig and Jackson combine for the stop to end the half with Italy still in front, 14-10 over Leon.
The battle wages on in the third quarter with neither side willing to budge. After a Leon punt, Italy takes over at their own 46-yard line. A 16-yard run by Anderson ends the third and the tension mounts as both sides prepare to settle the contest in the fourth quarter.
With Willis Field in Italy electrified, Italy has a first and ten at the Cougar 30-yard line to start the final minutes of play. Italy advances the ball to the 15-yard line of Leon, but on fourth and eight at the Cougar 18-yard line, Anderson scrambles and gets taken down at the nineteen, 8:52 still to play.
Leon regains control and thanks to yard-gaining runs by Hayes, Cory Whitmire and Rivera, the Cougars have a first down at the Gladiator 48-yard line. Rivera runs to the 29-yard line of Italy where a tackle by Clemons causes both players to lose their helmets, 5:22 remaining. Hayes then shoots thru the Gladiator defense for a 23-yard sprint down to Italy’s 1-yard line.
Rivera crosses the goal line from there for his second touchdown on the night, 4:35 remains. A low snap disrupts Robertson’s point after kick but Leon’s Bumpurs, who was the holder on the play, spins to the right side of the field and passes to Hernandez. Hernandez makes the catch and fights his way across the goal line for the 2-point conversion, even better! Leon matches Italy’s first half comeback and achieves a comeback of their own, taking an 18-14 lead.
On Italy’s retaliation drive, an 18-yard pass from Anderson to Clemons gives the Gladiators a first down at the Cougar 38-yard line with 3:45 left on the scoreboard. Italy fumbles on the following play and Joseph Hines recovers for the Cougars with 3:32 left. The Cougars run off the remaining time and Leon gets a big win in Italy, 18-14 over the Gladiators.
Leon’s Hayes finished the night with 128-yards on 20-carries to help the Cougars conquer the Gladiators. Leon’s overall record is now 5-3 and 2-1 in district. Italy’s overall record is 4-4 and the Gladiators are now 1-2 in district play.
Italy’s Anderson finished with 40-yards rushing on 16-carries and 293-yards passing. Anderson also scored 1-touchdown and went 2-of-2 on P.A.T. kicks, accounting for eight of Italy’s 14-points. Anderson’s touchdown pass to Sephus accounted for the additional 6-points. Sephus had a 49-yard kickoff return in the game as well.
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Italy’s head coach Craig Bales and the Gladiators will travel to Axtel (3-0) on Friday, October 29 to challenge the district leading Longhorns at 7:30 p.m. Axtel head coach Mike Cadell and the Longhorns will be coming off their third straight win in district play after a 21-12 victory over Centerville.
Special thanks to Citizens National Bank of Texas (CNB of Italy) for their generous contribution of $1, 237.88 to Italy ISD before the game. CNB representatives Diego Garcia, Amber Reeves, Sarah Romero, and Parker Reeves presented the check to IHS Board Member Cheryl Owens, IHS Principal Tanya Parker and Italy’s Stafford Elementary Principal Tammy Wallis.