Axtell remains undefeated in district after 35-28 win over Italy

Image: Italy’s Bobby Wilson(64) recovers a fumble for the Gladiators — Brandon Souder(63), Jasenio Anderson(11) and De’Andre Rettig(60) signal Gladiators’ ball after Bobby Wilson(64) recovers an Axtell Longhorn fumble. Despite Italy’s best efforts, Axtell knocks the Gladiators out of the playoff race with a 35-28 win at Ellison Field in Axtell.

Italy’s Bobby Wilson(64) recovers a fumble for the Gladiators — Brandon Souder(63), Jasenio Anderson(11) and De’Andre Rettig(60) signal Gladiators’ ball after Bobby Wilson(64) recovers an Axtell Longhorn fumble. Despite Italy’s best efforts, Axtell knocks the Gladiators out of the playoff race with a 35-28 win at Ellison Field in Axtell. (Barry Byers)

Axtell — The Axtell Longhorns (7-2,4-0) stay undefeated in district play and improve to 4-0 against their 2A-2 Region II District 11 competition after deflating the playoff hopes of the Italy Gladiators (4-5,1-3) Friday night in Axtell, 35-28.

With their season on the line, the Gladiators left it all on the field in Axtell, but the Longhorns and their quick-hitting option offense, lead by quarterback Justin Stranacher and powered by fullback Brandon Bordovsky, proved effective throughout the game and particularly in the games final minutes.

After enjoying a quick fireworks display to conclude the playing of the National Anthem by the Axtell Longhorns Band, Axtell kicked off and a 3-yard return by Jalarnce Jamal Lewis allowed Italy to begin their initial drive at the 35-yard line. Kyle Jackson picked up 5-yards on Italy’s first offensive play. A 7-yard pass from quarterback Jasenio Anderson to Corrin Frazier gave Italy a first down at the Gladiators 47-yard line.

Two plays later, Italy’s Heath Clemons was corralled in the backfield for an 8-yard loss, third down and sixteen needed. No problem for Anderson who keeps the ball and reaches the Axtell 40-yard line for an Italy first down.

Jackson carries for 8-yards to Axtell’s 32-yard line at the 9:30 mark of the first quarter. Jackson picks up two tough yards up the middle to get the first down for Italy at the 30-yard line of the Longhorns. Anderson passes to Jase Holden who makes the catch at 17-yard with Mykel King making the tackle for Axtell.

Jackson runs three more yards to the 14-yard line followed by an Anderson 13-yard run down to the Axtell 1-yard line. With 7:47 left in the opening quarter, Anderson keeps and crashes into the middle of the Longhorns’ defense for the games first touchdown. With Holden receiving the snap, Anderson kicked in the extra point, 7-0 Gladiators, 7:28 still to play in the first.

Starting from their own 33-yard line after Anderson’s kickoff. Axtell wasted no time in feeding Bordovsky the ball. The Longhorns fullback carried four straight times before Stranacher ran for 16-yards to the Gladiator 32-yard line and a first down. On the next play, however, Gladiators’ defensive tackle Bobby Wilson recovers a Longhorns’ fumble and Italy regains possession at their 30-yard line, 5:05 left to play in the first quarter.

On first down, Anderson passes incomplete to Frazier. Anderson keeps right and gains 15-yards down Axtell’s sideline before being forced out at the 45-yard line, first down. Italy’s drive quickly stall’s and Anderson’s punt travels 41-yards and is downed at the 4-yard line, 3:45 still to play in the first quarter.

Bordovsky gets the ball again and Italy’s De’Andre Rettig makes the tackle at the 5-yard line. Stranacher is sacked by Frazier at the 4-yard line. King gets his first carry and the Longhorns get a first down at their 14-yard line. Stranacher options left and pitches to King for a loss of 1-yard. Then there goes Bordovsky, 30-yards up to the Longhorn 46-yard line before being knocked out-of-bounds by Italy’s Kyle Wilkins.

Stranacher fakes the handoff to Bordovsky and carries 18-yards to the Gladiator 36-yard line where he is brought down by linebacker Ethan Simon. Bordovsky breaks a tackle and gets to Italy’s 30-yard line. Stranacher fakes the handoff and keeps to the 25-yard line where Jackson and Clemons combine for the tackled. On first down, Bordovsky gains 7-yards to the eighteen of Italy and the exciting first quarter comes to an end.

Wilkins brings down Bordovsky inside the 15-yard line. After the measurement, Axtell has a first down at the 11:45 mark of the second quarter. Stranacher options right and keeps to the 6-yard line. Bordovsky gives the Longhorns a first and goal at the 2-yard line. Stranacher sneaks in from there. King adds the extra point and the Longhorns tie the game 7-7, at the 10:24 mark of the third.

Italy’s De’Andre Sephus returns the ensuing kickoff 27-yards to midfield. An Anderson run gets back to the line-of-scrimmage, second and ten. Anderson passes to Frazier for a first down at Axtell’s 40-yard line. Clemons hauls in a pass from Anderson for a gain of four. Anderson carries 9-yards to the twenty-seven of Axtell with Josh Reynolds making the tackle for the Longhorns.

A 3-yard pass to Clemons advanced Italy to Axtell’s twenty-four but a false start on the next play moved Italy’s offense back to the 29-yard line, second and eleven with 7:51 remaining in the first half. Anderson misconnects with Devonta Simmons, third and eleven. Anderson keeps and reaches the 7-yard line where he is pushed out by Axtell’s Pat Martin, first and goal Italy. Moments later, Anderson keeps again and reaches out to the 2-yard line of the Longhorns. On fourth down, Anderson keeps up the middle for his second touchdown to put the Gladiators back in front 13-7. Anderson’s point after kick is true and the Gladiators lead 14-7 with 6:21 still to play before halftime.

The Longhorns quickly move into Gladiator territory after Anderson’s kickoff. Simon sacks Stranacher at Italy’s 45-yard line for a 1-yard loss, second and eleven for the Longhorns. Bordovsky fights his way to Italy’s 32-yard line with 3:55 remaining in the half. Bordovsky is then tackled by Rettig at the Gladiators’ 26-yard line. Rettig, again on the stop, brings down Stranacher and leaves Axtell with a fourth and short at Italy’s twenty-two. Rettig catches Bordovsky but not before the Lonhorns’ 1,000 yard back picks up the first down at Italy’s 16-yard line, 2:25 remaining.

A big hit by Wilkins holds Bordovsky to a 2-yard gain at the fourteen. Wilson hangs on to Bordovsky but the Longhorns have a first and goal at Italy’s 6-yard line. Bordovsky finished the 56-yard drive with a touchdown run to pull the Longhorns within one, 14-13. King’s kick ties the game 14-14 with 0:41 left in the opening half.

Jase Holden downs the ensuing squib kick at Italy’s 39-yard line. Anderson opts not to waste the final seconds and instead looks for another scoring opportunity. Unable to hit the big play and stranded at the Gladiators’ 41-yard line, Anderson punts it away with with 0:11 left. On the return, Axtell’s Josh Reynolds made his way to the Gladiators’ 29-yard. Anderson makes a touchdown saving tackle on Reynolds to end the half and keep the game tied 14-14.

The award-winning Gladiator Regiment Band and Flag Corp dazzled the fans at Eddison Field with an amazing halftime performance. Drum Majors Jessica Hernandez and Drenda Burk guided the routine while Flag Corp members Nikki Brashear and Megan Buchanan waved flags, twirled guns and even swirled strings of ribbon. Kaytlyn Bales and Melissa Smithey were versatile as well, starting out on maracas, then finishing with a stunning display on the cymbals. The greatest band in the land is directed by Jesus Perez and the color guard instructor is Tina Richards.

Axtell receives the kickoff and starts their first offensive possession of the second half at their own 46-yard line. Bordovsky is tackled quick by Rettig and Stranacher throws the ball away on Axtell’s second play. Simon clobbers Stranacher on the option keeper and Axtell punts on fourth and seven from their 49-yard line. The Longhorns down the punt at Italy’s eighteen.

Italy’s first two plays go nowhere but an offsides call against Axtell gives Italy a third down and six at their own 23-yard line. Anderson reaches the thirty-three before being tackled by Kris Brooks and Bordovsky. A holding penalty moves Italy backwards. The Gladiators are unable to gain the sixteen yards needed for a first and Anderson punts to Axtell’s 30-yard line, 8:07 to play in the third.

The Gladiators are charged with unnecessary roughness and the referees tack on 15-yards to the end of Axtell’s punt return, first and Longhorns at Italy’s 37-yard line. An offsides call against Italy gives Axtell a first and five at the 32-yard line. Five running plays later, Bordovsky scores from 2-yards out to give Axtell a 20-14 advantage and their first lead of the game. King’s point after kick misses wide left, 3:56 left in the third.

Italy’s Lewis returns the Longhorn kickoff 18-yards to the Gladiators’ forty-eight. Anderson runs but a holding penalty forces Italy to restart staring at a first and twenty. Anderson airs it downfield to Simmons who makes the over the shoulder catch and steps out at Axtell’s 37-yard line. Repeating the play, Simmons repeats the catch from Anderson for a 37-yard touchdown. Anderson’s point after kick counts and the Gladiators retake control, 21-20 with 3:24 still to go in the quarter.

After fielding Anderson’s kickoff, Axtell’s Keith Lindsay spins away from a tackler before being brought down by Frazier at the Gladiator 44-yard line. Stranacher keeps the ball and reaches the thirty-two where he is tackled hard by Simon. Larry Mayberry brings down Bordovsky at Italy’s 27-yard line. Bordovsky runs for a Longhorns’ a first down at Italy’s 17-yard line. Jacob Kubitza is tackled by Sephus at the 9-yard line with 1:25 showing on the third quarter clock. Bordovsky crashes his way to the Gladiators’ 1-yard line. Bordovsky plunges across from there, 26-21, Axtell leads with 0:25 remaining. Stopped initially, a facemask call gives Axtell a second try at the conversion. Bordovsky just gets in to give a Axtell a 7-point cushion, 28-21.

Sephus tries to control the Longhorn kickoff while running forward. The ball careens off his pads and bounces in the direction of Axtell’s kickoff unit. A crazy play, Lewis retrieves the ball on the hop and is quickly brought down before he can start toward the endzone. The hustle by Lewis preserves the possession for Italy and the Gladiators start at their own 47-yard line. A holding penalty against Italy and a 2-yard run by Anderson brings the eventful third quarter to a close.

Anderson gets Italy going with a first down pass to Clemons at Axtell’s 32-yard line. Anderson covers 27-yards on the ground and sets up Italy with a first and goal at Axtell’s five. Anderson sneaks but loses 1-yard. Anderson reaches the 2-yard line but a holding call spots the ball back at the 15-yard line, second and goal. Reynolds forces Anderson out at the thirteen, third and goal with 10:32 remaining in the game. Anderson passes to Wilkins who is tackled at the 2-yard line. Bringing up fourth and goal, Anderson tries to run for the touchdown around the left end of the Longhorns’ defense. Anderson is met by a whole herd of Longhorns and Riser pulls Anderson out-of-bounds at the 3-yard line.

Axtell takes over on downs and two plays later, Bordovsky breaks 71-yards to Italy’s 24-yard line where his pushed out by Wilkins, 9:06 to play. A personal foul, charged to Italy during the play, spots the ball at the Gladiators’ thirteen. Bordovsky carries to the eight and then to the 5-yard line on back-to-back plays. A measurement proves Bordovsky earned a first down, and on the following play, Axtell’s bruising fullback ran in for the touchdown. King’s point after kick counts and Axtell leads 35-21 with 8:14 remaining in the game.

Axtell squibs the kickoff and Wilson recovers at Italy’s own 40-yard line. An Anderson run draws a facemask call, against Axtell, and the ball is relocated to the Longhorns’ 43-yard line. Anderson is then tackled by Randy Smith after 2-yards. Anderson keeps to the thirty-six with 7:45 to play. Anderson bullets a pass to Frazier on the slant route for a first down at Axtell’s 27-yard line.

Clemons makes the catch at Axtell’s twenty. Anderson passes 15-yards to Clemons for a first down at Axtell’s 12-yard line, knocked out by Bordovsky. Anderson over shoots Holden who was running along the right sideline and into the endzone. Clemons makes a sideline grab on the opposite side of the field and gets one foot down in bounds before being pushed out. First and goal Italy at the Longhorns’ 5-yard line, 5:42 left in the game.

Anderson straight lines a pass to Simmons who scores the touchdown on a crossing route. Simmons’ second touchdown reception of the game makes the score 35-27. Anderson kicks in the point after and the Gladiators are still in the contest, 35-28 with 5:39 remaining.

Starting at their own 34-yard line. Axtell’s head coach, Mike Cadell, calls Bordovsky’s number five straight times to advance the ball to the 30-yard line of Italy while burning seconds off the clock. With 2:55 left and ticking, Stranacher slips down at the thirty-four. Two plays later, Kubitza runs to the 23-yard line of Italy leaving Axtell to convert on fourth and one. With 1:55 left, Italy’s fans begin shouting, “Hold ’em, hold ’em, hold ’em!”

The Longhorns rely on Bordovsky who tries to leap for the first down. Italy’s Frazier slides in for a leg tackle and Bordovsky comes up short of the marker, First down, Italy! 1:33 remains on the clock, and for Anderson, that is often more than enough. Desperately needing to tie and perhaps force an overtime, Anderson rolls right but has to throw the ball away and stop the clock with 1:22 remaining. Anderson passes out to Clemons for a gain of five but Clemons is tackled in bounds and the Gladiators hustle to the ball. Anderson connects with Clemons again for a first down at the 37-yard line and a clock stoppage, 0:55 remains.

Axtell intercepts Anderson’s next pass but the Longhorns were offsides on the play and Italy has a first down and five at their own 42-yard line. Clemons catches another pass from Anderson but is tackled in bounds. A first down for Italy at Axtell’s 45-yard line quickly turns into second and ten after Anderson spikes the ball, 0:41 remaining.

Sephus makes the catch but slides down in bounds near Axtell’s 35-yard line, third down. Anderson quickly launches a pass into the endzone intended for Holden. Despite contact, the pass is ruled incomplete with 0:10 remaining in the game. On fourth down, Anderson rolls left with his eyes scanning the endzone but is sacked near the Gladiators’ sideline by Kubitza. Axtell takes over on downs with 0:03 left and then Stranacher takes a knee to remove Italy from the playoff picture.

Cadell had this to say after Axtell’s tension-packed victory over the Gladiators, “Any win is a good win. Italy came in here fighting for the life and we knew that. It’s was a do or die situation for them and Anderson is an outstanding player.” Perhaps bitter after his Longhorns were picked to finish in last place before the season, Coach Cadell added, “To be one win from the district championship, well, it just has a sweet little taste. Hopefully, we’ll be able to clinch first place next week.”

The Gladiators will wrap up their season against Centerville at home on Friday, November 5, starting at 7:30 p.m. It will be Senior Night for the Gladiators who hope to improve their record to 5-5 for the second year in a row.

Go Gladiators!