Italy’s Gladiators rise to the challenge and defeat the Jaguars 36-22 in Hubbard

Image: The Italy High School Cheerleaders unite during the playing of the school song by the Gladiator Regiment Marching Band before the matchup between Italy and the Hubbard Jaguards.

The Italy High School Cheerleaders unite during the playing of the school song by the Gladiator Regiment Marching Band before the matchup between Italy and the Hubbard Jaguards. (Barry Byers)

Hubbard — With the Italy Gladiators (2-2) hoping to get back on track, Italy head coach Craig Bales relied on his sprinter Ryheem Walker and the rest of his talented backfield including Kyle Jackson and Jalarnce Jamal Lewis to cross the goal line for four rushing touchdowns, collectively, and finish with a 36-22 win over the Hubbard Jaguars (2-2).

Quarterback Jase Holden completed 2-of-3 passes with 1 touchdown pass to Ethan Saxon and had one interception returned for a touchdown. That was all the Gladiators needed thru the air as Walker and company ripped, gashed and bullied their way up and down the Jaguar field Friday night in Hubbard.
Afterwards, Coach Bales recapped the night with his team by explaining, “We only threw three passes tonight because that was all we needed. Why? Because you guys took the Jaguars by the tail and twisted them into submission.” I’m paraphrasing of course.

Traditionally a running school, and proud of it, Coach Bales and his staff have revamped the offensive system to suit the 2011 Gladiators, foregoing the spread formation Italy used the past few seasons. Italy may have found its old identity on Friday which simply is, “Our eleven on the field will dominate your eleven on the field, head-to-head and for all four quarters.”

Walker’s opening run to start the game set the tone for the night as the athletic junior covered 30-yards to Hubbard’s 25-yard line. After a handful of plays, a flag threatened to stall Italy’s drive but a Holden completion to Walker picked up 15-yards and a first down. Walker and Jackson used two carries to push the ball inside Hubbard’s 5-yard line.

On third and goal from the one, right tackle Larry Mayberry, Jr. and right guard Adrian Reed cleared the way for Walker’s entrance in to the endzone putting Italy up 6-0. Walker passed to Hamilton who caught the deflected pass for the conversion to give the Gladiators an 8-0 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, sophomore Justin Wood makes the tackle for the Gladiators to keep Hubbard on their side of the fifty. Wood joins five other sophomores who have contributed to the Gladiator effort so far this pre-season including Eric Carson, Trevon Robertson, Kevin Roldan, Zain Byers and Hank Seabolt. Despite crunching tackles by linebackers Ethan Saxon and Walker, Hubbard earns two first downs and reaches their 47-yard line with Hayden Woods and Hamilton stopping the jags there. After an incomplete pass brings up fourth and four, the Jaguars opt to go for it. A false start penalty charged to the Jaguars sets a fourth down punt.

Carson fields the punt for Italy and picks up a couple of yards before stepping out-of-bounds at the nineteen. After a false start penalty, Italy was left with second and 15-yards to go from their own ten. On the next play, Hubbard’s D’Warren Simmons intercepts Holden’s pass, intended for Robertson, after the Gladiator quarterback was hit on the release. Simmons pranced in untouched from 18-yards out for the defensive touchdown, tightening the contest 8-6. Hubbard managed the 2-point conversion, as well, tying the score 8-8 with 2:30 to play in the first quarter.

Robertson recovers the following kickoff and Italy starts at their own 39-yard line. Lewis runs to the Hubbard 41-yard line to recapture a little momentum back from the Jags. Two runs by Walker bring up third and two when Jackson gets the call and gets the tough yards for a first down at Hubbard’s 31-yard line. Walker maneuvers his way down to the 5-yard line to end the quarter.

Lewis capped off the drive, to begin the quarter, with a 5-yard touchdown run thanks to solid blocking from his offensive lineman and Saxon at tight end who took out Hubbard’s scraping linebacker. The score put Italy back in front 14-8. Italy’s pass attempt for the conversion failed, 11:55 to go in the second quarter.

With Hubbard unable to answer and forced to punt, Walker completely swings momentum to the Gladiator’s sideline after starting left, breaking tackles and then cutting to the right for a 70-yard defining moment. The statement run gives Italy a 20-8 lead. The conversion attempt is off the mark.

Italy kicks off and Italy’s Devonta Simmons nearly decapitates the Jaguar returner, who happened to be Cole Hill, the Jaguars’ starting quarterback. A twofer! Mayberry follows up with a tackle then Carson intercepts a screen pass attempt by the Jags to reclaim possession for the Gladiators at Hubbard’s 43-yard line. Lewis rushes to the twenty-eight but gets pack attacked by the Jags on the next play. Bales goes back to Lewis who is unable to get the first, still needing three yards. On fourth down, Hubbard tackles Jackson for minimal gain and takes over possession at their own 21-yard line, 4:29 left before halftime.

Tackles by Walker and Saxon bring up third and long forcing Hill to throw deep for teammate Casen Martin who lays out for a tremendous, over the shoulder, diving catch at Italy’s 49-yard line. The excitement was short-lived for the Jags as Italy’s Simmons intercepted Hill on the very next play and advanced the ball to the 40-yard line of Italy with 2:44 left in the third. Simmons, a 6’,5" senior safety, had a monster performance last week against Palmer and the Hubbard pick gives Simmons three interceptions in two games.

Two plays later, Holden finds a wide-open Saxon downfield for a 58-yard scoring strike. Walker completes to Jackson for the 2-point conversion as Italy begins to separate from the Jags, 28-8. The final 1:54 of the first half ticks away.

Hubbard begins its next drive at their own 35-yard line after fair catching the kickoff. A Lewis sack leaves Hubbard with third down and 24-yards to go. The Jags throw for the first down and an unsportsmanlike penalty charged to Italy places the ball at Italy’s 46-yard line. Despite solid tackle by Jackson and Saxon, and a quarterback pressure by Byers that forces Hill way back before completing a pass that reaches the thirty-nine of Italy, the Jaguars continue to drive down inside Italy’s 20-yard line.

On fourth and one at Italy’s nine, the Gladiators jump offsides to give Hubbard a fresh set of downs. Jackson makes first contact with Bradley Walker in the Jags backfield and Byers finishes the tackle to bring up second and goal. Hill keeps to bring third and goal from the 1-yard line and then keeps up the middle for a Jaguar touchdown. Hill passes to Simmons for the conversion to make the score, 28-16, cutting the deficit in half with 4:20 still to play in the third.

The Gladiators answer by marching downfield to the Jaguar 8-yard line. With 2:45 to go in the third, Walker zips in to the endzone from 8-yards out to, once again, establish a comfortable lead for Italy, 34-16. Lewis runs in for the conversion and the Gladiators lead 36-16 with one quarter still to play.

Hubbard finally reaches the endzone but not until the final minute of the game. With 0:58 left, Bradley scores on a 12-yard run. The conversion fails and the score is 36-22, Italy leading. The Gladiators cover the ensuing onside kick and run out the final seconds of the game.

Italy’s defense, led by an inspired Mayberry who recorded two sacks after stalking Hill in the second half, played a physical game along with defensive linemates Estrada, Lewis and Byers to keep Hubbard in check and get the win.

Italy’s linebacking corp of Jackson, Saxon and Walker preyed on the Jaguar ball carriers while Simmons, Carson, Chase Hamilton, Hayden Woods and Holden made the plays they needed to make in the secondary to backup the defensive line. All of which gave Italy’s defensive coordinator, Jeff Richters, much to smile about.

Coach Bales complimented his team within the post game huddle and thanked the JV team members for giving such a great look in practice all week by adding. “Half of this win belongs to you JV guys.”

The Gladiators will travel on Friday, September 23, to play Red Oak Life at 7:30 p.m.

Go Gladiators!