Gladiators hold off late surge by Maypearl to win opener 13-7 in a thriller

Image: During the Italy vs. Maypearl pep rally, the Hunger Games pitted teacher against teacher with Morgan Mathews winning as each contestant tried to out wardrobe the other using a limited selection.

During the Italy vs. Maypearl pep rally, the Hunger Games pitted teacher against teacher with Morgan Mathews winning as each contestant tried to out wardrobe the other using a limited selection. (Barry Byers)

Italy — Excitement was in the air as Gladiator Nation began filing into Willis Field for Italy’s 2013 season opener against visiting rivals, the 2A Maypearl Panthers. Everyone eager to see the progress of their revamped grid-iron 1A Gladiators under first-year AD/HFC Charles Tindol and his staff which includes Brandon Ganske, Jon Cady, Bobby Campbell, Wayne Rowe and Larry Mayberry, Sr.

After both teams charged out of their air tunnels and down the sidelines with air horns blowing and flags waving, team captains made their way to center field for the ceremonial coin toss. Representing Italy were Zain Byers(50), Bailey Walton(54) and Kevin Roldan(60) with the home team winning the toss and electing to kick off.

Roldan booted the kick to start the season and made the tackle as well, leaving Maypearl to start from their own 35-yard line. The Panthers mishandled their opening snap with Tyler Vencill reaching the quarterback while Walton, from his defensive end position, recovered the fumble to put Italy in great field position to setup their first offensive series of the game.

Quarterback TaMarcus Sheppard was set to guide Italy straight to the end zone with a couple of keepers before passing to Hunter Merimon to advance the ball inside Maypearl’s 20-yard line. Sheppard eventually scores from 2-yards out behind Kyle Fortenberry, Zain Byers and Cody Medrano whose push up across the goal line gives the Gladiators the early 6-0 advantage. With Fortenberry snapping and Tyler Anderson holding, Roldan kicked the point after between the uprights and Italy led 7-0 midway thru the first-quarter.

With the Gladiators setting the pace, Maypearl was desperate to get some momentum going with quarterback Dalton Riley entrusted to spark the Panthers. After Walton hammered Maypearl’s kickoff returner, Riley and the Panthers began their next drive from their own 35-yard line.

Maypearl put together a long methodical drive that ended deep in Italy territory after the Panther’s were unable to convert on 4th down. Unfortunately, Sheppard and the Gladiator offense remained penned down and was forced to punt the ball away.

Maypearl’s third offensive series rolled over into the second quarter with Italy’s defense beginning to show some opening game fatigue. To make matters worse for Italy, starting tackle John Byers was forced out of the game with a cut on his arm one play after returning to the lineup after having a dislocated finger reset by Italy firefighter Jackie Cate. Cate was a senior captain for the Gladiators back in 1987.

Taking advantage of Italy’s fatigue and lineup changes, Maypearl was able to get the edge on a run to the right with tailback Tristian Spradling reaching the end zone from 13-yards out to make the score 7-6. The point after kick was true to tie the game 7-7.

Sheppard and the Gladiator offense countered after Merimon made a fair catch at Italy’s own 54-yard line. Merimon carried first for a gain of 3-yards and then Sheppard kept the ball and found a lane to the forty-three. Sheppard then powered his way to the forty-seven for a 1st down. Sheppard kept the ball again to midfield for 2nd and 7. Following lead blockers Coby Bland and Shad Newman, who provided a crushing block on a Panther linebacker, Sheppard darted all the way to the Maypearl 32-yard line for another Gladiator 1st down.

Italy’s next run lost 2-yards so Sheppard completed a pass to Trevon Robertson who was deep enough for another 1st down at Maypearl’s 22-yard line. After a pass to the end zone goes incomplete, Sheppard follows Merimon to the right for 21-yards down the Panther 1-yard line. Sheppard fumbles at the end of the play but is ruled down before the fumble occurred. It takes two tries, but Merimon punches in the go ahead touchdown behind Cody Medrano, Darol Mayberry and Cody Boyd who all managed perfect drive blocks to give Merimon an opening.

With Italy now on top 13-7, Roldan’s point-after kick sails right but Italy takes the 6-point lead into halftime.

After an entertaining performance by Maypearl’s band, drum major Alexis Sampley takes the podium to lead the Gladiator Regiment Marching Band through their routine as the Color Guard led by captain Anna Riddle waved their flags with flair. Band directors Jesus Perez and David Graves and color guard Instructor Amber Droll soaked it all in as their kiddos do what the do so well with Madison Washington leading the brass section, Whitney Wolaver leading the drumline and assistant drum major Emily Stiles helping to keep the show flowing smoothly.

The second half sees both sides jabbing at each other with neither side able to land the game deciding blow. Italy has made it into Maypearl’s red zone twice but offensive penalties helped halt both drives. With Italy still in front, the score remains 13-7 at the end of the third and late into the fourth-quarter as Italy’s defense shuts down Maypearl’s offense on three consecutive series.

In the games deciding moments, the Gladiators are one first down away from possibly sealing the win but a timely tackle by Panther tackle Andy Cantu on Sheppard, to bring up 4th and a long 2, forces Italy to punt the ball back over to Maypearl.

With under 4 minutes left in the game, and after a keeper by Sheppard to possibly seal the win comes up just short of a 1st down to bring up 4th down, Coach Tindol opts to punt the ball away and force Maypearl that much farther from Italy’s goal line. With no return on the punt, the Panthers began one last drive from their own side of the field in an effort to foil Tindol’s debut.

After picking up a couple of first downs to build their confidence and push into Gladiator territory, the Panthers found themselves with a chance to pull off a shocker. Abandoning the inside running game with inside starting tackles John Byers and Roldan, and with Tyler Vencill and Mayberry in relief, proving to be too much of a challenge, the Panthers begin targeting the edges in hopes of hitting some big plays with the game clock winding down.

With a missed tackle here a key block there, Maypearl was poised for the strike near Italy’s 20-yard line with Ryan Connor making a touchdown saving tackle for Italy. As Gladiator fans urged their defense to make a stop on 3rd and 2, outside linebacker Hunter Merimon, did just that when he dropped the Panthers for a loss to bring up 4th-and-8, setting the stage for the game’s dramatic finish.

After a timeout, Maypearl decided to pass for the needed yards or possible the game-tying touchdown as Riley rolled right off of play-action with the option to run or pass. Zain Byers, who respected the run threat first, fought to the outside to put some heat on Riley who opted to throw toward the end zone for all the marbles. With the crowd noise deafening, Riley’s pass sailed beyond the reach of his intended receiver allowing safety, Trevon Robertson, to intercept Maypearl’s last gasp inside the 5-yard line. After securing the pick, Robertson quickly turned to run down Italy’s sideline with the roar of the home fans urging him forward. Robertson reached the 27-yard line before being tripped up as the Gladiator bench erupted in celebration.

With Italy clinging to a fragile 6-point advantage, Robertson, who forced a fumble earlier in the game which was recovered by Ryan Connor, had saved the day under the Friday night lights for Gladiator Nation!

Moments later, Sheppard took victory snaps to wrap up Italy’s opening 13-7 win as the Gladiator band blared out the fight song in triumph from high in the bleachers as Italy begins their 2013 campaign 1-0.

Cheerleaders Taylor Turner, K’Breona Davis, Kelsey Nelson, Ashlyn Jacinto, Kristian Meeks, Britney Chambers, Jessica Garcia and Gladiator mascot Noelia Garcia joined the players in the playing of the school song and then Coach Tindol delivered an encouraging post-game speech to his players.

Congratulations to Coach Tindol, his staff and to the players for answering the bell. Special thanks to Gary Wood and Jasenio Anderson who were in care of the air tunnel and air horn, to our team parents for providing snack bags and locker room decorations, to the Stat Squad girls including Hannah Washington, Bailey Eubank and Jaclynn Lewis, to our game announcer, clock keeper, concession stand volunteers, gate volunteers, film crew, water boys, the Italy FFA, the Italy Fire Department, the Italy Police Department and to the Gladiator Athletic Booster Club!


Gladiator Carries Rush YDS REC Rec YDS Pass YDS TD
Merimon 9 22 1/1 10 1-Rushing
Newman 5 25 1/4 18
Robertson 1 14 2 34
Sheppard 21 91 1-Rushing
Anderson 3 9


Gladiator Tackles Assists TFL FF FR INT QBH
Robertson 5 1 1 1 1
McBride 1
Merimon 3 3
Sheppard 4 1 1
Boyd 2
Connor 1 1
Newman 2 2
Bland 2
Z. Byers 6 3 1 2
Walton 5 4 1
J. Byers 4 1
Mayberry 1 2 1
Roldan 3 1
Tyler Vencill 1
Fortenberry 3
Medrano 1


Gladiator Punt YDS PAT PR
Sheppard 4/105
Roldan 1/2
McBride 1/5

Tindol’s Trophies:

  • Special Teams MVP — TaMarcus Sheppard
  • Offensive Line — Kyle Fortenberry
  • Defensive Line — Zain Byers
  • Hard Hit — Trevon Robertson
  • Hard Hit — Zain Byers
  • Offensive MVP — TaMarcus Sheppard
  • Defensive MVP — Bailey Walton
  • Top Teammate (practice and game) — Kevin Roldan

Elsewhere in the district:

  • 53-26 — Kerens lost to 2A Edgewood
  • 46-13 — Cross Roads wins over 1A Dawson
  • 63-14 — Cayuga vs. 1A Cushing
  • 33-0 — Dallas Gateway lost to Brock
  • 52-8 — Itasca lost to 2A Rio Vista

Friday’s Game vs. the Malakoff Tigers:"
The Gladiators will challenge the 2A Malakoff Tigers in Waxahachie at Stuart B. Lumpkins Stadium on Friday, September 6, 2013, starting at 7:30 p.m. as part of the 2nd Annual Dale Hansen Football Classic hosted by Waxahachie ISD. During last year’s Classic, Italy and Malakoff were knotted 36-36 before the Tigers ran away with the win, 64-36.

2013 Dale Hansen Football Classic game and gate info*:

Pre-Sale tickets are currently available inside Italy High School’s front office or inside the administration office and will be priced as follows:

  • Friday, September 6th: $5.00 Pre-Sale/$8.00 Game Day (Italy vs. Malakoff)
  • Saturday, September 7th: $7.00 Pre-Sale/$10 Game Day (Includes admission to both Saturday games)
  • Children Five and Under Free Admission with Purchase of Adult Ticket

Pre-Sale Ticket Information:
Pre-Sale tickets will be available at each high school campus participating in the classic and will run August 26th – September 5th (for Italy/Malakoff game) and September 6 (for Florence, Thrall, Alvarado & Mexia games).

DHFC Game Times:

  • Friday, September 6, 2013
    Italy Gladiators vs. Malakoff Tigers
    7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 7, 2013
    Florence Buffaloes vs. Thrall Tigers
    4:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, September 7, 2013
    Alvarado Indians vs. Mexia Blackcats
    7:30 p.m.

The Italy JV/JH Gladiators will play Malakoff at home on Thursday, September 5. The gate prices will be as follows:

  • Adults — $4.00
  • Students/Children — $2.00

Way to go, Italy!