Italy’s Junior High Gladiators battle with the Leon Cougars

Image: The Italy JH defense scopes out the Leon Cougars’ offense — The Italy Junior High Gladiators dare the Leon Cougars to snap the ball. The young Gladiators turned in several big plays but the Cougars refused to be out played on their home turf.

The Italy JH defense scopes out the Leon Cougars’ offense — The Italy Junior High Gladiators dare the Leon Cougars to snap the ball. The young Gladiators turned in several big plays but the Cougars refused to be out played on their home turf. (Barry Byers)

LEON — John Escamilla receives the opening kickoff for the Italy JH Gladiators allowing Italy’s offense to start from their own 45-yard line. Two carries by Escamilla give Italy a third and five. Quarterback Ryan Connor passes incomplete to Colton Petrey bringing up fourth down. Connor keeps up the middle but Leon holds and takes over on downs at midfield.

With 6:20 to play in the first quarter, a holding penalty backs Leon to their forty. On second and twenty, Kyle Fortenberry, John Byers and Petrey combine for the stop and hold the Cougars to just a 4-yard gain, second and sixteen. A reverse leaves Leon with a third and seven but the Cougars break a big run on the next play all the way to Italy’s 3-yard line.

Petrey made the hustle play to temporarily keep the Cougars out of the endzone. On the next play, Leon’s fullback punched across from their to give the Cougars a 6-0 advantage, 3:33 to go in the first. Leon mishandles the handoff and Byers and Cody Boyd close down the 2-point conversion try.

Escamilla fields the Cougar kickoff and Italy starts their second possession from their own 49-yard line. Connor is sacked for a 3-yard loss on first down. On the next play, the Cougars converge on Connor again resulting in a fumble that the Cougars snag out of the air and carry into the endzone for their second touchdown. The Cougar fullback finds a hole on the conversion run to put Leon up 14-0, 2:21 left in the first quarter.

JaRay Anderson advances the ensuing kickoff to Italy’s 46-yard line. A run by Boyd and a keeper by Connor give Italy a third and eight at the 48-yard line. Connor rolls right and passes ahead to Caden Petrey who makes the catch for a Gladiator first down at the Cougars’ 38-yard line, 0:37 remain. Escamilla carries for two more yards to end the opening quarter.

Connor rolls right again, and this time, finds Levi McBride who makes the grab for a Gladiator first down at the Cougar 26-yard line. Connor drops back but gets hit as he throws and the pass falls incomplete. Connor rolls left and Cougar defenders reach him again but the determined quarterback gets the pass away in the direction of Boyd. Adjusting his out route, Boyd reaches back for the catch and turns upfield to the Leon 10-yard line for a first down.

Escamilla runs into a pile of Cougars and gets face masked to the ground. Unfortunately, the referees miss the call and Escamilla takes a short exit from the game. With 6:30 to play in the first half, Anderson is unable to control a high snap and the Cougars pounce on the ball at Leon’s own 17-yard line. Two plays later, the Cougars break another long run to the Gladiator 25-yard line, 4:50 left in the first half.

Leon’s offense reaches Italy’s 6-yard line on their next two carries. The following play, Connor and Byers make the stop at the 3-yard line. Leon dives across from there to go up 20-0. The conversion counts and Leon leads 22-0 with 2:49 still to play before halftime. Italy struggles to advance the ball in the remaining time and Leon enjoys a 22-0 halftime advantage.

Leon returns the second half kickoff 65-yards for a touchdown. Anderson and Petrey combine on the tackle to foil Leon’s conversion try but the Cougars are well in control with a 28-0 lead. Petrey receives the kickoff and Italy starts at their own 42-yard line. Connor’s first pass attempt of the second half is intercepted and Leon scores on their first offensive play in the third quarter. The long run puts the Cougars up 34-0 with 5:36 remaining in the third. Connor stuffs the Cougar runner in the hole to ruin Leon’s conversion try.

Petrey returns the Cougar kickoff to Italy’s 43-yard line. Boyd carries for 1-yard but another snap miscue results in a Leon fumble recovery at the Gladiator 35-yard line. Defensive tackle Tyler Vencill brings down a Cougar runner. Linebacker Lance Peck collides with a Cougar on the next play followed by a Byers tackle to setup fourth down and a long two for the Leon offense, at Italy’s 27-yard line. Caden Petrey and Peck make the stop and Italy regains possession of the ball, still at the twenty-seven of the Gladiators, 0:40 remain in the third quarter. Connor connects with Petrey down the middle of the field for a Gladiator first down at their own 40-yard line to end the quarter.

After an incomplete pass, Escamilla takes the handoff from Connor and rumbles, then spins, to Leon’s 49-yard line. A few plays later, Connor runs a 9-yard keeper for a first down at the Leon 38-yard line. Italy’s drive eventually stalls and Leon takes over at their own 43-yard line with 3:20 left in the contest.

Byers spoils a reverse run by the Cougars and makes the tackle for a 10-yard loss. After a tackle by Vencill, Ty Windham tackles a Cougar runner to bring up fourth and eleven for Leon. The Cougars punt and Anderson returns the kick to the Gladiator 40-yard line. Another turnover by Italy’s offense allows Leon to take a knee and end the matchup. Leon wins 34-0 but the Italy JH Gladiators never quit trying and competed hard every play.

Despite the score, Italy’s coaches constantly shouted, “Good job,” from the sidelines, excited about the improvements displayed by the young Gladiator squad. “It was the best performance by our offensive line this season,” said line coach Stephen Coleman.

2010 Italy Junior High Football Roster:

  • 6 – Colton Petrey
  • 7 – John Escamilla
  • 9 – JaRay Anderson
  • 17 – Ryan Connor
  • 20 – Lance Peck
  • 22 – Cody Boyd
  • 24 – Tony Wilson
  • 28 – Levi McBride
  • 35 – Caden Petrey
  • 33 – George Galvan
  • 36 – Ty Windham
  • 50 – Kyle Fortenberry
  • 56 – John Byers
  • 60 – Kelton Bales
  • 64 – Justin Robinson
  • 66 – Jordan Lemire
  • 75 – Tyler Vencill
  • 77 – Brandon Connor
  • 84 – Chace McGinnis
  • 85 – Carl Jaynes
  • 88 – Mason Womack