Gladiators answer the opening bell to knockout Eagles 2-0 in first scrimmage

Image: Gladiator head coach Hank Hollywood directs his tough guys into battle against the Valley Mills Eagles for Italy first scrimmage.

Gladiator head coach Hank Hollywood directs his tough guys into battle against the Valley Mills Eagles for Italy first scrimmage. (Barry Byers)

Italy — Fans got their first look at the Italy Gladiators under newly installed head coach Hank Hollywood during his team’s first scrimmage of the season on Saturday inside the gates of Willis Field. Valley Mills starts with the ball on their own 30-yard line and has 15 plays before switching to defense. The Gladiators, building on momentum established by their JV squad’s 1-0 win just moments earlier, immediately began making plays to keep the Eagles grounded.

Backfield tackles by Jalarnce Jamal Lewis and Chase Hamilton and pressure by Justin Wood off the edge kept the Eagles scrambled. A pass reception to setup a first down was the only bright spot for the Eagles during their opening stanza. Unable to move the chains again, however, the Valley Mills returned to the 30-yard line to continue their remaining offensive plays. The drive quickly faltered thanks to an inside tackle by middle linebacker Ryheem Walker on the fifteenth play. Italy excitedly huddled for their first offensive chance and 15 plays to work with.

Loaded with talent and having high expectations, Italy’s offensive machine proved too potent for the Eagle defense who struggles to contain the Gladiators throughout the scrimmage. In fact, Italy manages to drive downfield and into scoring position on each of their three offensive segments, scoring two touchdowns. To start their initial drive, quarterback Eric Carson gets the offense rolling with a first down run to the Valley Mills 45-yard line.

A pass intended for Kelvin Joffre results in a pass interference call and another first down at the forty. Right guard Kevin Roldan leads the way for Lewis who gains 7-yards. A pass to Shad Newman who fights for more yards after the catch puts Italy into scoring position. Carson keeps and jukes his way downfield and into the endzone for an apparent touchdown. Carson’s effort was called back due to a holding penalty. Italy keeps at it and manages to reach the 10-yard line. After an incomplete pass into the endzone, the drive stalls and the Gladiators change over to defense.

Valley Mills does manage one first down during their second 15 play segment but Italy’s defense becomes more effective with each Eagle snap. Caden Jacinto comes off the edge to reach the quarterback and force an incomplete pass. Darol Mayberry strips the ball and causes a fumble in the Valley Mills’ backfield but the Eagles recover. Hamilton fights thru a blocker to form tackle an Eagle back and Cody Medrano catches an Eagle runner from behind to foil a potentially big play for Valley Mills. Zain Byers plucks out the ball carrier from of a flock of Eagle blockers and then Lewis turns the next play inside where Byers cleans it up on the 15th play for Valley Mills.

With Italy back on offense, Reid Jacinto pulls in a pass from Marvin Cox, now at quarterback, to give Italy a first down. Walker gains several yards on one play and delivers a vicious block on another. Tough running by Lewis gets Italy to the 1-yard line where Marvin Cox walks in for the first touchdown of the contest giving Italy a 1-0 edge.

Italy returns to defense with noseguard Hank Seabolt using his muscle to disrupt the wedge play attempts by Valley Mills. Walker begins to assert himself from his middle linebacker position to record a couple of more tackles. Defensive end Paul Harris explodes thru the enemy’s offensive line to sack the Eagle quarterback and then penetrates the backfield on the next play to force an incomplete pass attempt. The Eagle drive stalls at Italy’s 37-yard line and the Gladiators take over from their own thirty to run their final 10 plays.

After an incomplete pass, a determined run by Walker gains 8-yards. Carson keeps and picks up 17-yards to the 45-yard line. Hamilton hauls in a pass from Carson at midfield. Italy’s next two plays lose ground and the Gladiators return to the thirty to start again.

Lewis quickly gets the Gladiator offense back on track with tackle-breaking 21-yard carry to the 49-yard line of Valley Mills. Carson looks to pass but opts to tuck the ball and hurry ahead to the thirty-nine. Carson then drops back and gets a fabulous block from left guard Darol Mayberry allowing Carson to stay in the pocket and deliver a pass downfield to Hamilton who turns and runs to the 8-yard line. Carson then connects with Walker for an 8-yard touchdown pass to give the Gladiators a 2-0 win on the final play of the scrimmage.

Overall, it was a strong first outing for Italy who moved the ball inside the 20-yard line during each of their three offensive segments. Italy’s ability to run and pass effectively kept the defense of Valley Mills off balance. Walker and Lewis were nearly impossible to stop out of the backfield and quarterbacks Carson and Cox both proved they can lead the team into the endzone.

The offensive line consisting of Byers, Zackery Boykin, Kevin Roldan, Mayberry and Medrano, along with JV players John Byers, Kyle Fortenberry and Colin Newman who put in some work during both scrimmages, received many praises from coaches afterwards. When Adrian Reed returns from injury, the front line will be even stronger.

Defensively, Italy never allowed Valley Mills an up close look at the goal line. Walker, Hamilton, Lewis, Wood, Caden Jacinto, Reid Jacinto, Shad Newman and Medrano forced the Eagles to try to find yards inside. Italy’s secondary consisting of Cox, Trevon Robertson, Cole Hopkins and Joffre were never really tested in the secondary thanks to pressure off the edges and consistent pressure from Harris, Seabolt and Boykin in the trenches. The defense will be reinforced when Hayden Woods returns from injury.

Italy will scrimmage the Waco Reicher Cougars in away games starting with the JV contest at 6:00 p.m. followed by the varsity matchup at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, August 24.

Go Italy!

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