Willis Field, Italy — Italy and Palmer jabbed at one another for most of the first half until Bulldog quarterback Judge Wolfe rambled 40-yards for a touchdown to put Palmer ahead 6-0 at the 8:18 mark of the first quarter. Dylan Jackson’s point after kick was successful and Palmer led 7-0.
The Gladiators quickly countered after a kick return to the 31-yard line by Kyle Jackson setup a Jase Holden to Ryheem Walker touchdown pass that covered 69-yards. Italy is unable to score on the conversion and the game remains 7-6 in Palmer’s favor.
Palmer’s next drive had the Bulldogs overcoming many set backs before Wolfe crossed the Gladiator goal line again, this time from 24-yards out, to help visiting Palmer keep pressure on the home team. D. Jackson’s point after kick was true and the Bulldogs were up 14-6 with 3:29 to play in the first half.
Eric Carson returned the following kickoff to Italy’s own 45-yard line but the Gladiators were forced to punt. Palmer tried to add to their lead but a sack by Jalarnce Lewis resulted in a Bulldog fumble that was recovered by Lewis to end the half with Palmer still leading 14-6.
Italy kicks to Palmer to start the second half and soon after moves into Gladiator territory. However, an interception by Devonta Simmons who returns the pick to the 37-yard line of Palmer changes the momentum of the game. On fourth down, Holden connects with Simmons in the endzone for 23-yard touchdown pass to pull Italy within two of Palmer. Walker streaks in for the conversion to tie the matchup 14-all with just under nine minutes to play in the third quarter.
Palmer fumbles the ensuing kickoff from Italy’s Kevin Roldan allowing Paul Harris to recover for the Gladiators. Unfortunately, an inadvertent whistle erases the play and Roldan has to kick again and Palmer fair catches on the second chance at their own 42-yard line, 8:17 left in the third.
Moments later, after a tackle by Omar Estrada leaves Palmer with third and twenty-two, Simmons jumps the Palmer pass route for his second pick of the game. Simmons works his way down the Gladiator sideline to the twenty-nine of Palmer with 5:25 showing on the third quarter clock.
Holden hits Simmons with enough yards to possibly move the chains but a penalty backs Italy up 5-yards to the thirty-four. Jackson is stopped on a middle run followed by incomplete passes to Carson and Jackson that causes Italy to turn the ball over on downs at the 4:06 mark.
A hard run by Palmer’s Augie Herrea gives the Bulldogs a first down at the 43-yard line, 3:57. Italy manages to hold Palmer after a tackle by Lewis brings up second and thirteen. This was followed by another stop in the backfield, two plays later, as the Gladiators’ entire defensive front converged on Palmer’s side of the L.O.S. Palmer punts it away.
The third quarter winds down and after a hard run by Jackson. Italy has the ball at their own 40-yard line. After an incomplete pass attempt, a run by Lewis brings up fourth and one. Holden is unable to reach the sticks and Palmer takes over at Italy’s 41-yard line, 11:05 remaining in the game.
A holding penalty on the Bulldogs and quarterback pressure by Jackson from his linebacker position forces a Palmer punt at the 9:09 mark. Italy eventually punts it back to Palmer and the Bulldogs work their way deep into scoring position, fourth and inches at Italy’s 33-yard line. Estrada makes the tackle for a loss on the next play and Italy takes over at their own 39-yard line.
Italy opts for another punt after a false start penalty on fourth down leaves Italy with fourth and nine. Jackson punts it away and Roldan makes first contact with Palmer’s kick returner before Jackson, the punter, makes the tackle at the Bulldog 32-yard line with 2:35 left in regulation.
Italy’s defense does the job and tackles by Ethan Saxon, Holden and Jackson cause Palmer to punt with under a minute to play. Italy takes over and a 15-yard roughing penalty charged to Palmer at the end of Carson’s punt return gives Italy a first down at the 48-yard line of Palmer.
Paul Harris hauls in a pass from Holden and gets out-of-bounds at the 44-yard line, 0:38 remaining. Saxon catches a pass down to the Palmer 10-yard line but a holding call backs Italy to the Palmer forty-seven, second and ten with 0:31 to go.
Simmons makes a leaping catch at the 22-yard line of Palmer. Gladiator head coach Craig Bales calls for a timeout with 0:23 to play. Out of the timeout, Holden tries to pass to Carson but the pass falls incomplete. Palmer sacks Holden on the next play and Italy rushes to the line to spike the ball. Center Zain Byers quickly snaps to Holden who immediately spikes the ball with 0:03 left, and the game still tied 14-14. At the Palmer 29-yard line and on the final play in regulation, Holden drops back to pass but is unable to make a throw as Palmer get a sack to force an overtime duel.
Palmer’s offense gets the ball first to start the overtime session. Each team gets a chance to score beginning from the 25-yard line. Whatever the Bulldogs score on their first possession of overtime, the Gladiators would have to, at least, match that to keep the game going or surpass it for the win on the ensuing possession. There is no play clock in overtime. The Bulldogs run three straight plays and are left with fourth and a seven yards to go after a false start penalty backs Palmer to the 22-yard line of Italy.
Just as the Gladiators were thinking we have the Bulldogs right where we want them, a trick play of sorts, allowed Palmer’s Jason Burgett to go in motion and take a handoff from Wolfe, fake a run and then fade back to pass. An open Salvador Perez caught the 22-yard pass from Burgett to put Palmer up 20-14. Wolfe sprinted to the right pylon for the conversion and put all the pressure on Italy to match.
Walker has two big runs and gives Italy a first down at the Palmer 10-yard line. With the crowd into the moment, the Gladiators are unable to execute and the ball to drops on the ground. Holden dives for the loose ball but after a tussle with Palmer’s Alex Arrango, “Mr. Referee” ruled the ball was now in Palmer’s possession. After Holden hands over the ball, the Gladiator quarterback pleads with the official to make the correct call. The call stood, unfortunately, and Palmer begins their celebration after holding on for the overtime win, 22-16.
It was a tough pre-season loss but Coach Bales and the Gladiators have three weeks two make adjustments in preparation for their district opener against Blooming Grove. To have a chance to test your skills in overtime during a pre-season matchup could prove vital in district play, as well.
The Gladiators (1-2) will travel to Hubbard Friday night, September 16, to play the Jaguars starting at 7:30 p.m. Former Gladiator Sean Connor is now coaching at Hubbard and will be coaching against his nephew, Ryan Connor, during the Jr. High game between Italy and Hubbard on Thursday in Italy starting at 5:00 p.m.