Most athletes refuse to accept moral victories. However, every so often, the Football Gods will send you a sign that your team is heading in the right direction. On Thursday, the Italy Junior High Gladiators ended their game with the Axtell Longhorns in a 22-22 tie, Italy’s first ‘non-loss’ of the season. And moral victory or not, it sure was fun being a Junior High Gladiator on Thursday.
Axtell started the game from their own 41-yard line. A few plays later, the Longhorns had a first down at Italy’s forty-one. A pass completion to the 12-yard line setup a touchdown run by Axtell’s Dillon McBride. McBride barreled his way across the goal line for the 2-point conversion as well to give the Longhorns an 8-0 first quarter lead, 2:36 left.
Italy’s Colton Petrey returns the ensuing kickoff 26-yards to Italy’s side of the 50-yard line. Unfortunately, the Gladiators fumble the ball back to Axtell on Italy’s first offensive play. Axtell’s McBride breaks a tackle on the following play and charges ahead, 49-yards for his second touchdown, 14-0 Longhorns lead. Italy’s Kelton Bales, Petrey and Kyle Fortenberry make the stop on Axtell’s conversion attempt. The tackle by the three Gladiators proves to be a huge play for Italy as the game continues.
Cody Boyd covers the Axtell kickoff at the Italy 41-yard line. Quarterback Ryan Connor rolls left looking downfield but keeps instead for an 8-yard gain with 1:10 left in the first quarter. Two plays later, Boyd lead blocks for John Escamilla out of the backfield and Italy has a first down after the 11-yard carry to Axtell’s forty-nine ends the opening quarter.
Connor hands to Jaray Anderson to start the second quarter and Anderson sprints 28-yards to Axtell’s 11-yard line. Escamilla carries for 1-yard to the ten. Anderson scores from their to put Italy on the board, trailing 14-6. Connor turns a busted play into a successful 2-point conversion for the Gladiators. Axtell’s lead dwindles but the Longhorns continue to lead 14-8.
Axtel starts again from their own thirty. Bales tackles a Longhorn and holds him to only 1-yard. After a 6-yard gain, a false start penalty backs Axtell to the 30-yard line. An incomplete pass brings up fourth and nine and the Longhorns must punt. The snap sails over the punter’s head and Anderson recovers for the Gladiators at the 25-yard line of Axtell. Three plays later, Connor passes to Petrey for the game tying touchdown with 2:41 remaining in the first half. Anderson darts into the endzone for the 2-point conversion and Italy’s JH Gladiators take their first lead of the game as well as their first lead of the season, 16-14!
A hard tackle by Anderson, a leg tackle by Levi McBride on Axtell’s McBride and a sack by Petrey to end the half help preserve Italy’s 16-14.
Petrey returns the second half kickoff for Italy to the 49-yard line but a penalty spots the ball at the thirty-nine. Italy’s first two plays move the ball to the forty before a pass from Connor to Petrey reaches the 48-yard line of Axtell for a first down.
Connor passes incomplete to Boyd and then Anderson gains 2-yards to the 46-yard line with 5:30 left in the third quarter. An incomplete pass intended for Caden Petrey brings up fourth and eight. Italy’s McBride makes the catch on Italy’s sideline but lands just shy of the first down marker and Axtell takes over on downs.
Three plays later, a leg tackle by Caden Petrey on Axtell’s McBride leaves the Longhorns with fourth down and six yards needed for the first, 4:15 to play in the third. Axtell, tries to pass for the first down but Bales bats down the pass as Longhorn quarterback Tanner Fields was releasing the ball. The Gladiators take over on downs at Axtell’s 45-yard line.
Connor is unable to connect downfield to Petrey, second down. Connor hands to Escamilla who is hit hard and fumbles. Fortunately, Escamilla recovered for Italy but later learned he incurred two broken fingers from the play.
Connor keeps up the middle for 2-yards to give Italy a forth and nine. On the next play, Connor launches a bomb to Petrey who makes the grab and runs in for a 44-yard touchdown reception. Anderson is met at the goal line and Axtell denies the 2-point conversion. However, the JH Gladiators extend their lead 22-14 with 1:25 left in the quarter. With just one touchdown to their credit coming into the Axtell game, Italy managed three more against the Longhorns.
On the ensuing kickoff, Carl Jaynes and a few of his fellow Gladiators bring down the Longhorns’ returner at the Axtell 47-yard line. Two plays later, Gladiator linebacker Lance Peck recovers an Axtell fumble and Italy is back in business at the Longhorn’s forty-eight, 0:26 are left in third quarter.
At 6:44 mark of the fourth quarter, a third down pass to Petrey is falls incomplete but an interference call on Axtell gives the JH Gladiators a first down at the Longhorns’ 45-yard line. Two runs by Connor gains 5-yards but a false start penalty makes third and fifteen from midfield for Italy. Connor rolls left and keeps it for 8-yards. On fourth and seven with 4:49 remaining in the game, Connor and Petrey are unable to connect and the Longhorns take over at their own 41-yard line, 4:31 remains.
Axtell options right and pitches to the tailback who advances the ball to Italy’s 44-yard line. Fields hands off to the halfback who starts right and then throws a halfback pass downfield. The Longhorn receiver cannot hang on to the ball bringing up second down. A Bales tackle holds the Longhorns at the 40-yard line. Caden Petrey makes the tackle on a Longhorn sweep try leaving the Longhorns with a fourth and six. Axtell options left and Fields turns the corner but his no-look pitch to the tailback hits the ground and Boyd recovers for the Gladiators. First and ten Italy with 3:17 remaining in the game.
Penalties keep the Gladiators penned back and with 2:00 left in the game, Petrey punts from Italy’s 28-yard line. Starting on Italy’s side of the field, Axtell passes incomplete with Italy’s McBride in coverage, clock stops with 1:35 remaining. A near interception by Anderson at the 25-yard line stops the clock again with 1:29 left. On third and ten, Axtell goes back to the run but Petrey makes the tackle resulting in a fourth and seven for the Longhorns, 1:12 to play and the clock is ticking…
Axtell runs for the first down and more as McBride makes the touchdown saving tackle for Italy at the Gladiator 16-yard line. Axtell’s next run reaches the 6-yard line. With time winding down, the Longhorns lineup and repeat the previous play for a touchdown. With the score now 22-20, still in Italy’s favor, Axtell goes for the 2-point conversion to tie. Boyd meets Axtell’s McBride in the B-gap but the determined Longhorn plows his way in for the game tying 2-points with just 0:19 left on the clock.
Petrey returns the ensuing kickoff to Italy’s 24-yard line. Connor is sacked back at the 15-yard line. Connor then passes to Petrey down the left sideline. Petrey almost makes the catch near midfield but the final buzzer soon sounds and the Italy JH Gladiators get their first ‘non-loss’ of the season, tying the Longhorns 22-22.
Italy’s JV Gladiators vs. Axtell:
The excitement continued in the following Junior Varsity game. Italy’s [Name Withheld] ran the opening kickoff 23-yards to the Gladiator 48-yard line thanks to a block from Eric Carson to give [Name Withheld] the edge. On Italy’s first offensive play, Chase Hamilton seals the edge and Paul Harris kicks out the Axtell cornerback allowing quarterback Tony Wooldridge to run for the first down at Axtell’s 38-yard line.
Two consecutive penalties and an incomplete pass from Wooldridge to Carson and another intended for Trevon Robertson force Wooldridge to punt. Axtell starts from their own 32-yard line. Hank Seabolt crunches the Axtell fullback on the fake and the Longhorns pass for 2-yards. Axtell then runs for the first down on the next play. Seabolt makes a tackle on first down. Hamilton brings down a Longhorn runner in the backfield and Axtell has a third and thirteen at midfield.
Zackery Boykin makes the tackle at the Gladiators’ 47-yard line. On fourth and seven, Robertson and Cody Medrano keep the Longhorns from reaching the first down marker and Italy takes over on downs, 5:45 left in the first quarter.
Runs by Wooldridge and Hamilton are stuffed by the Longhorns near the line-of-scrimmage. Wooldridge throws deep downfield to Justin Wood but the pass lands incomplete. However, a roughing the quarterback penalty on the Longhorns extends Italy’s drive. The penalty spots the ball at Axtell’s 47-yard line at the 3:10 mark of the opening quarter.
Wood takes the handoff from Wooldridge, starts right and then cuts back left for a gain of 22-yards to Axtell’s 24-yard line. Three plays later, Wooldridge passes into the endzone, intended for receiver Paul Harris. The pair are unable to connect and Italy is left with a fourth and eight at the Axtell 23-yard line, 2:03 on the clock. Wooldridge is hit on the release and the pass falls incomplete and the Longhorns take over on downs.
Axtell starts with a run but Robertson makes a big hit from his safety position to stop the attempt. Axtell is charged with a clipping penalty on the play and the Longhorns go backwards to their own twenty-one. A false start call on Axtell backs them to their 16-yard line. Carson and Robertson make the tackle at the 18-yard line to end the first quarter.
The Longhorns eventually get herding in the right direction and reach Italy’s 45-yard line with 7:38 left in the second quarter. On first down, the longhorns botch the handoff and Wood scoops up the forgotten ball and races to the 20-yard line of Axtell. A penalty during the run spots the ball back at Axtell’s 35-yard line but the Gladiators have a first and ten with 7:18 still to play in the first half.
Carson steps in at quarterback for Italy, and two plays later, hits Harris with a pass to give the Gladiators a second and one at Axtell’s 25-yard line. Carson runs to the 10-yard line to give Italy first and goal with 5:55 remaining before halftime. Carson gains two on the quarterback keeper. On the next play, Carson throws into the endzone but the pass is intercepted and returned to the Gladiators’ 48-yard line. Cody Medrano makes the tackle to keep Axtell from going all the way.
Boykin leads off with a big hit on Axtell’s first down run. Wood, Robertson and Wooldridge team up for the next stop, third and ten for Axtell, 3:10 remaining.
Axtell completes a pass as Carson tries to brand the Longhorn receiver. Axtell hangs on for the first down completion at Italy’s 36-yard line.
Axtell runs for 5-yards to the thirty-one of Italy, 1:41 left. Robertson and Boykin combine for the tackle but Axtell reaches the first down stick at Italy’s 21-yard line, 1:22 to go. Moments later, Seabolt and Robertson bring down a Longhorn runner at the 9-yard line but the Longhorns earn another first down with 0:49 showing. [Name Withheld] shoves a Longhorn runner out at the 11-yard line.
With second and goal from the 11-yard line and only 0:31 ticks left on the clock. Axtell tries to pass for the games first touchdown. The pass is deflected in the Longhorns’ backfield and Wood catches the duck and takes off with Medrano leading the way. Wood can only reach the 30-yard line of Italy but the play keeps Axtell off the scoreboard. Wooldridge fires long range to Harris but the pass drops incomplete. Wooldridge throws a sideline pass over the fingertips of a Longhorn defender and into the hands of Carson who turns up the Axtell sideline and runs to midfield. Hamilton is brought down in the backfield on a reverse run to end the eventful first half. The game remains tied 0-0 at intermission.
Axtel quickly moves into Gladiator territory after receiving the second half kickoff. A fumble recovery by Wood gives the Gladiators possession at their own 26-yard line. A 1-yard run and an 18-yard run by Wooldridge advances the ball to the 45-yard line. Hamilton hammers his way just short of the first down to Axtell’s 46-yard line with 3:26 to play in the third quarter.
Wooldridge keeps it himself and squeaks thru to the Axtell 30-yard line. Wooldridge repeats the play to Axtell’s 17-yard line. Italy’s drive begins to stall and incompletions to both Harris and Wood allows the Longhorns to take over on downs at their own 28-yard line, with just seconds remaining in the third.
Sticking to the running game, Axtell reaches midfield. Adrian Reed stuffs the Longhorn fullback on the fake and Hamilton shoves Axtell’s quarterback out-of-bounds at Italy’s 49-yard line to end the quarter.
Axtell breaks away on the first play of the final quarter and celebrates in the endzone 49-yards later. The Longhorns add the 2-point conversion and the Longhorns take an 8-0 lead with 9:45 left to play. Robertson returns the Longhorn Kickoff but a Gladiator penalty causes Italy’s offense to start from their 19-yard line.
Carson returns to quarterback and two runs by the freshman gives Italy a first down at the 30-yard line. A false start penalty backs Italy to their twenty-five. Hamilton carries to the 38-yard line, third and eight for Italy with 8:10 to play. Wooldridge is sacked back at the twenty-nine and the next pass goes incomplete. A false start forces a Gladiator punt on fourth down from their own 24-yard line. Hamilton downs the punt at the Axtell 47-yard line, 6:28 remaining.
Axtell keeps the ball on the ground but Italy’s defensive tackle Kevin Roldan strips the ball from the Longhorns and, in a one-man stampede, sprints toward the Axtell endzone. The stunned Longhorns finally lasso Roldan at the Axtell 20-yard line. Two plays later, Wooldridge scores the touchdown to make the game 8-6. On the conversion try, Wooldridge dives toward the endzone and stretches the ball across the goal line for the 2-points, tying the game 8-8 with 5:46 remaining.
After receiving the kickoff, Axtell eventually reaches Italy’s 29-yard line on a drive that included two separate 14-yard runs for first downs. Zain Byers and Seabolt make the stop to leave the Longhorns with second and eight at the twenty-seven with 3:03 remaining. Wood drills the Longhorn quarterback to bring up third down and 8-yards to go for Axtell. Hamilton strings out a sweep to the sideline and the Longhorns are left with fourth and 6-yards to go, 1:57 on the clock.
Hamilton sacks Axtell’s quarterback in the backfield and Italy takes over on downs at their own 30-yard line. A sack on Wooldridge backs Italy to their 23-yard line. Italy uses their final timeout at the 1:33 mark of the fourth quarter. A pass to Carson draws an interference flag and Italy gets a fresh set of downs at their own 34-yard line. Wooldridge picks up 12-yards behind a Robertson block and goes out at the 46-yard line to stop the clock at 1:18.
Wood runs a reverse to Axtell’s 49-yard line on a gain of five and gets out-of-bounds with 1:14 remaining. Axtell drops a sure interception, third and eight for the Gladiators. Axtell does intercept the next Gladiators’ pass attempt and advances the ball 8-yards to their own 33-yard line, 0:49 remaining.
Robertson tackles a Longhorn runner at the Axtell 34-yard line, 0:40 remaining. Not willing to take a knee and a tie back home to Axtell, the Longhorns run the old quarterback throwback play. Not willing to be fooled and certainly not willing to lose, Italy’s [Name Withheld] intercepts the pass intended for Axtell’s quarterback and modestly hurries down the Longhorns’ sideline for the game-winning touchdown.
The effort by [Name Withheld] puts the Gladiators up 14-8. Wooldridge runs in the 2-point conversion to make the score 16-8 and to help ensure the best Axtell could do is tie in the games final 0:16 seconds.
Axtell immediately downs the ensuing kickoff to preserve the time on the clock. Hamilton sacks Axtell’s quarterback for a 12-yard loss with 0:07 left. After an incomplete pass in the flat, the Longhorns tried the hook-and-ladder play with 0:04 remaining. [Name Withheld] and Wooldridge delivered the final shots that tripped up the Longhorn runner at Italy’s 49-yard line to end the game.
Three fumble recoveries, two interceptions and the game-winning touchdown by Italy’s defense wrapped up an exciting day of Gladiator football with Italy’s JV defeating Axtell 16-8.