Gladiators and Bulldogs square off in scoreless duel

Image: Italy’s All-State senior defensive end Zain Byers(60) shows his versatility by making a tackle from behind on the slot receiver and holds Palmer to minimal gain on a quick-pass play the Bulldogs tried on the scrimmage’s opening play.

Italy’s All-State senior defensive end Zain Byers(60) shows his versatility by making a tackle from behind on the slot receiver and holds Palmer to minimal gain on a quick-pass play the Bulldogs tried on the scrimmage’s opening play. (Barry Byers)

Palmer — Coming off a strong showing in their first scrimmage against 1A Valley Mills, the 1A Italy Gladiators received a bit more resistance from the 2A Palmer Bulldogs during the final scrimmage for both teams before their 2013 season’s kickoff.

Defensively, Italy had to deal with the accurate passing arm of Palmer’s quarterback and a capable receiving corp while Palmer had to try to contain the big play ability of quarterback Tamarcus Sheppard and Italy’s running game including a full arsenal of ball carriers with Shad Newman, Hunter Merimon and Coby Bland.

Palmer began with a quick pass to start but Italy’s defensive end Zain Byers tackled the receiver from behind before the Bulldogs could take advantage of a missed tackle. Byers helped make the next tackle as well but Palmer finally got moving and drove across midfield and into Gladiator territory. Palmer then tried a deep ball but cornerback Levi McBride picked off his second pass in two scrimmages to halt the success of the Bulldogs.

Italy’s offense sputtered at first but Sheppard eventually got the Gladiators moving and positive runs by Newman helped keep the drive progressing. With Italy nearing Palmer’s 20-yard line, the Bulldogs defense toughened up causing Italy’s opening drive to stall at the Bulldog 25-yard line.

The rest of the scrimmage saw both sides slugging it out with neither able to penetrate their opponents end-zone. Defensively, for Italy inside tackle John Byers recorded 4 tackles and back-to-back sacks while Italy’s linebacker corp continued to improve with every snap. Newman has put together a strong preseason and Bland has speed to go along with a hard-hitting mentality. Merimon is a gamer at an outside linebacker and Sheppard is quickly adapting to his outside linebacker position. Defensive Bailey Walton is becoming more of a presence on the field which is a good sign for Italy’s defensive front that relies on the Byers cousins and Kevin Roldan to press the issue against offenses.

In the secondary against Palmer, Trevon Robertson helped break up passes as did Cody Boyd at cornerback who had two huge deflections in man coverage to foil Palmer’s last good chances to score on the night during a 12 minute simulated quarter to cap off the scrimmage. Palmer hoped to hurl one last pass into the endzone but backup defensive end Cody Medrano flushed Palmer’s quarterback from the pocket to force the Bulldog to tuck and run. Roldan made sure he didn’t go far with a mighty tug from behind to help pull Palmer’s top player to the ground.

Offensively, Sheppard connected on passes with Cody Boyd who turned up field for solid gains to help sustain drives. Italy’s offensive line suffered a couple of miscues along the way but, overall, are proving they will be solid force come district. Zain Byers, Darol Mayberry, Kyle Fortenberry, Roldan and Medrano are experienced and take pride in clearing running room for their talented backfield.

Gladiator fans have been impressed so far with Italy’s results during their two scrimmages under first-year AD/HFC Charles Tindol. Italy’s first real test comes this Friday night at home against their longtime rival, the Maypearl Panthers starting at 7:30 p.m.

JV Action:
Italy quarterback Joe Celis led the Italy JV Gladiator offensive attack while being equally impressive on defense. Italy fumbled the ball away on their first offensive play but Celis soon got his teammates rolling by running behind his sizable linemen up front including Aaron Pittmon and Austin Pittmon, center David De La Hoya, Elliott Worsham, Kenneth Norwood, Jr. and subs Adrian Acevedo and Samuel Corley. Speedy tailback, Jorge Rodriquez tweaked his leg early and was limited to defense for the most part leaving Eli Garcia and Jorge Galvan to take handoffs from Celis.

Garcia also had a couple of catches during the scrimmage and John Escamilla hauled in a pass for solid gain as well. Receiver Clayton Miller showed his speed and running ability on a play designed to stretch the defense but Italy was short on overall big plays.

Ryan Connor came up big for Italy’s JV squad with an interception while defending a long pass attempt by Palmer early but the Bulldogs eventually found the endzone for the only score during the JV matchup to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 edge after it is all over.

Italy’s JV Gladiators will see their first regular season action against Maypearl on Thursday in Pantherville starting at 6:00 p.m.

Go Italy!

More Images