After last week’s 36-22 win over Hubbard, Italy Gladiator head coach Craig Bales applauded his hard working JV squad, “The Dirty Dozen,” for their efforts during practice which aided the varsity in their win over the Jaguars. Friday night, against the Red Oak Life Mustangs(0-5), Coach Bales began to insert JV players early in the matchup and then handed them the reins in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter after Italy had established a 46-0 lead.
After a rootin’-tootin’ pep rally to fire the players up earlier in the afternoon, the Gladiators scored on their opening drive after the kickoff return by Eric Carson allowed Italy to get a good start at their own 40-yard line. Ryheem Walker’s first two runs from scrimmage accumulated two first downs, and moments later, a pass completion from Jase Holden to Kyle Jackson gave Italy a first down at ROLs 21-yard line.
Walker gained 1-yard, Jackson ran for 2-yards and the Walker bursted thru the middle of the Mustang defense for an 18-yard touchdown. Walker ran in untouched for the 2-point conversion and Italy leads 8-0 halfway thru the first quarter.
On ROLs first possession, the Mustangs decided to go for it on fourth and two at their own 48-yard line when Italy’s Omar Estrada crashed into the Mustang backfield to make the first contact and then is joined by teammates to tackle ROL for a 2-yard loss. First down for Italy at ROLs 46-yard line.
Jalarnce Jamal Lewis receives the handoff from Holden and finds daylight to the 34-yard line. A penalty, a 3-yard run by Lewis and two incomplete passes later, the Mustangs hold and take over at their own 36-yard line with 3:10 left in the quarter.
ROL quarterback Cooper Spurgin conects on a long pass to Michael Forde at Italy’s 49-yard line. Estrada makes another appearance in the Mustang backfield and brings down the runner for a 3-yard loss. Walker stuffs the next Mustang run attempt at the scrimmage line. Chase Hamilton just misses intercepting Spurgin to bring up fourth and twelve with 2:15 left. ROLs punt pushes Italy back to their 14-yard line.
Walker is tackled after a 2-yard gain and then is stopped by Averil Royal to bring up third and five at Italy’s 20-yard line to end the opening quarter.
Walker starts the second quarter with a nice run to the 37-yard line for an Italy first down. Walker powers ahead for another first down to ROLs 46-yard line at the 10:46 mark of the second. Devonta Simmons hauls in a pass from Holden for a gain of one. Walker rumbles for the first down to ROLs 29-yard line. Lewis gets the call and picks up 9-yards to the nineteen. Lewis then picks up five and a first down at the 15-yard line. Jackson runs between the tackles for Italy’s second touchdown with 8:29 to play in the first half. Jackson’s 15-yard touchdown gives a Italy a 14-0 advantage. Lewis does the honors on the conversion and Italy leads 16-0.
Mustangs start from their forty but a combination tackle by Ethan Saxon and Walker, a sack by Jackson and a pass broken up by Carson at cornerback force the Mustangs to punt. A first down catch to the ROL 45-yard line by Simmons gets the ensuing Gladiator drive rolling. Another strong run by Walker and a Keeper by Holden moves Italy to the 20-yard line as the Gladiators, once again, knock on the barn door of the Mustangs.
Moments later, Walker kicks in the door for the third Gladiator touchdown and Italy leads 22-0. The conversion was successful to make the score 24-0, Italy.
ROLs next possession ended at their own 37-yard line with the Mustangs Keith Alonzo punting it away. Italy began from their 44-yard line and a 2-yard run by Lewis and a first down catch by Simmons gives Italy a first down at the ROL 43-yard line with 1:09 left before the break.
After an incompletion, Holden passes to Simmons, again for a first down, at the thirty of ROL. After an incomplete pass intended for Paul Harris, Holden drops back but is forced to escape the pocket and wisely throws it away. Holden drops back on the next play, as well, but is ripped down by his facemask and the penalty helps keep Italy’s drive alive with a first down at ROLs 21-yard line, 0:33 left.
Lewis darts thru a clear lane created by Italy’s offensive linemen Larry Mayberry, Jr., Estrada, Zain Byers, Adrian Reed and freshman Kelton Bales, the son of head coach Craig Bales who earned his first varsity start against the Mustangs Friday night. The touchdown run by Lewis makes the score 30-0. A big hit by the Mustangs foils the conversion but did little to swing the momentum of the game, which was clearly favoring the Gladiators as the first half came to a close.
Coach Bales reviewed the halftime stats to see his team totaled 301-yards of offense in the first half and seemed to have a firm grip on the reins. A touchdown run by Walker, who followed a block from Reed and a double-team by Byers and Bales with 9:33 left in third quarter, made the score 36-0. Jackson ran in the conversion to make the score 38-0 and put the game out of reach. Coach Bales inserted JV players Justin Wood and Shad Newman into the backfield on Italy’s next possession as the Gladiators continued to move to the ball.
Italy’s defense continued turning in big plays for defensive coordinator Jeff Richters as the second half continued. Mayberry and Estrada sandwiched Spurgin in the backfield for a sack and Harris recorded a sack of his own. Braulio Luna nearly knocked Spurgin from the game as the hit on the Mustang quarterback left Spurgin with a hitch in his get-along and forced an incompletion.
After an interception by Hayden Woods in the fourth quarter, Italy reached the endzone one last time with Lewis doing the honors from 6-yards out. Lewis added the conversion and the Gladiators led 46-0. As the final minutes ticked away, the remainder of Italy’s JV players consisting of John Escamilla, Chace McGinnis, Cody Medrano, Bailey Walton, Darol Mayberry, Colin Newman, Kyle Fortenberry and Cody Boyd, along with Woods and S. Newman, helped advance the ball deep into Mustang territory. Veteran sophomore lineman Kevin Roldan supervised the line’s blocking assignments while Holden managing the backfield. The game ended with Italy handing the Red Oak Life their fifth loss of the season, 46-0.
When Gladiator Regiment Marching Band member Kaytlyn Bales and sister of freshman tackle Kelton Bales was asked how she felt about her little brother playing his first varsity football game, the proud elder sibling said, “I was nervous but he was doing so good and I really loved watching him out on the field.”
For Italy’s homecoming game, the Gladiators (3-2) will host Blooming Grove (3-2) for a 2A-2 Region III District 11 contest on Friday, October 7 starting at 7:30 p.m. The Lions will be entering the game roaring mad as they come off a 39-7 non-league loss to Teague.